Leading Article: Europe groans at Greece's choice

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The Independent Online
THERE is a mismatch between the Greece superficially familiar to millions of European holiday-makers and the country that emerges from coverage of Greek politics. The first can just about be squared with the Greece of antique history and mythology: a classical landscape worked by dignified farmers, bathed in golden Mediterranean light. The second seems altogether more Balkan: a country still bearing the psychological scars left by centuries of Turkish occupation and of the civil war of the late Forties, and still prone to paranoia.

Those wounds seem to have played a part in the astonishing comeback in Sunday's election of Andreas Papandreou and his (Socialist) Pasok party, just four years after being defeated following a series of scandals. The Greeks voted not just against the economic austerity programme of the previous prime minister, Constantine Mitsotakis, but in favour of a more stridently nationalist foreign policy.

Given that their election was fully democratic, it is impertinent to criticise the Greeks' choice - and pointless, too: a country in nationalist mood is not interested in outsiders' views. They may, none the less, note that their decision has been greeted with a kind of collective groan from around the European Community, which Greece joined in 1981. Within the EC it is feared, rightly or wrongly, that Mr Papandreou's economic policies will aggravate the problems of a deficit- and inflation-laden economy; and that his obduracy over the naming of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia could add to tensions in the Balkans.

If Greece were floating free, its government's policies would matter much less. But EC members have a vested interest in the Greek economy, not least because they have pledged pounds 13bn of 'cohesion funds' for infrastructure funding over the next six years. And Greece's refusal - confirmed and sharpened by Mr Papandreou - to tolerate the use by its northern neighbour of the name of its own province of Macedonia has angered Greece's EC partners and held up recognition of the former Yugoslav republic.

Given the historical background of a Macedonia that once embraced its own province, part of Bulgaria and the Yugoslav republic of the same name, and the tactlessness with which the latter has proceeded, the Greeks deserve a modicum of sympathy. Yet Mr Papandreou should not push his EC partners' patience too far, especially when Greece assumes the EC presidency next January. In economic terms, Greece is heavily dependent on EC largesse. That dependence is not mutual.