Re-establishing the relationship between citizens and politicians in Greece

George Despotidis

The word Greece nowadays is connected to the word debt, and it’s true – Greece owes a lot of money to a lot of people, banks and countries.

Until recently, public employees in Greece were not actually evaluated and could not be fired. It was a job for life and their salary would never decrease – only increase – as the years went by. And so this meant that everyone wanted to become a public employee.

Parties governing Greece from 1974 onwards, the year when democracy was restored and the constitution of Greece changed to a parliamentary democracy, knew this. They were the ones that voted for this legislation. So what governments did was to exchange jobs for votes. This type of relationship between citizens and politicians is called ‘clientelism’. Citizens knew that this was a corrupted relationship but they kept voting for the same people since they were also gaining from it.

The problem was that clientelism was creating a huge, inefficient and ineffective public sector consisting of untrained and unskilled personnel. The solution to this was then to outsource jobs to the private sector, but even then outsourcing was based on clientelism. As a result Greece’s budget deficit grew.

How did Greek governments cover these budget deficits? By borrowing money; but because almost every year Greece’s budget was in deficit, it needed more and more loans, not only to cover its deficits but to pay interest for the previous loans. Imagine a procedure like this happening for more than 30 years from many public authorities that managed public money. This is how Greece’s debt was created.

However, Greek governments didn’t seem to care since they were able to borrow money. Especially after Greece joined the EU in 1981 and the Eurozone in 2001, borrowing became easier. Everything was operating smoothly because deficits were covered by loans and interest was covered by more loans.

The true scale of Greek debt came to surface in the 2008 financial crises. Greece was not able to borrow money because its creditability was characterized as excessively low since possible lenders, given the world financial situation, wouldn’t risk their money in Greece as they had done before.

At this point an economist would discuss whether Greece should have gotten out of the Eurozone; about the IMF and the EU coming to Greece and applying memorandums so that lenders could start getting their money back; and by analysing which measures could help Greece to reduce its debt. But I am not an economist and think that focusing only on what needs to be done in order for Greece’s lenders to get their money back might lead to more debt creation all over again.

Rather, what I am interested in is the relationship between citizens and politicians that seems to be the starting point of Greece’s problem.

Why is this relationship important? Clientelism, as previously described, requires money which the public sector doesn’t have. As such, this clientelism has started to break down. Neither politicians nor citizens can gain from this relationship anymore, and it might be time for a new relationship to be established. Of course, effort and measures need to be taken to address financial concerns, but research on the relationship between politicians and citizens – the starting point of the problem – is also necessary.

My proposed possible solution for re-establishing this relationship is citizen participation. Participation can bring citizens and politicians closer than they currently are and can create a space for them to meet and interact. This may lead citizens to rebuild their trust in politicians, if they realise that politicians care about what they have to say.

Yet this needs to be a two-way procedure. Politicians also must realise that citizens can help and contribute to policy formation and that they should be allowed to participate in these processed. This might also lead to a rethinking of the identities of ‘citizen’ and ‘politician’. Not only do citizens need to change their beliefs about politicians, but politicians too need to change their beliefs about citizens – and participation might be a way to achieve this.

Citizens and politicians in Greece need to connect and this is the time to establish a positive relationship. The relationship established 30-40 years ago was neither healthy nor democratic. My research considers whether citizen participation can help establish a new relationship and which forms of participation are perceived to be more significant. However, at this stage it is already clear that effort is needed from both sides – otherwise citizenship participation will be used as a very undemocratic tool despite its democratic principles, and will lead to the manipulation of citizens by politicians.


George Despotidis is a first year Doctoral Researcher in INLOGOV. He completed an MSc in Public Management, also at INLOGOV, in 2012. His research interests include citizen involvement in policy-making, and decision-making processes with a specific focus on citizen participation. Follow him on Twitter here.

Wherever I lay my highlighter, that’s my home

Tatum Matharu

Having received a few puzzled looks in response to my recent move from Primary Care to the Business School, I feel the need to explain myself.  Firstly, before Primary Care, I was based at the Institute of Local Government Studies for my PhD.  But I researched the English regional assemblies (RAs).  I say ‘but’ to reflect that I didn’t readily see myself as a student of local government.  Or perhaps my normative position underlying my research, which looked at how social, environmental and economic partners in the RAs  effectively ‘held their own’ as these bodies took shape, meant that I wanted to neutralise the perception that I, the ‘objective researcher’, or my research subject had necessarily sprouted from local government.  I could, bar the brilliance of my supervisor, just have easily fitted into what was then a neighbouring department in the School of Public Policy: the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies.  Both, in their then form and function, have since discontinued or have been otherwise re-organised.  As have the RAs.

The rug was pulled from under the RAs during my fieldwork and the moving policy agenda seemed to be shaky ground upon which to build a foundation.  Simultaneously, I opened the floodgates of postpositivism and was swimming around in a hermeneutic circle, in search of some anchorage.  I was (and continue to be) thoroughly entertained by theoretical and methodological questions, but wanted a policy area with more vitality to take centre stage. Enter health.  I spent the next 18 months developing and piloting indicators for a pay-related quality measurement tool used in the primary arm of the NHS.  It was fascinating to be at the interface between clinically determined, rationally designed indicators and the people measured by the performance (GPs) and reception (patients) of these indicators; between, it felt, science and social science.

I learnt a great deal about the workings of the NHS as well as the complexity of health policy, but the role effectively required the eradication of complexity for the system to work.  Within my new role, which is to review and synthesise theoretical literature and empirical evidence on procurement and supply chain management, I have scope to highlight the limitations of strictly rational understandings and applications of such processes in the domain of health.  Using a methodology that specifically aims to draw out complexities from a range of perspectives, along with continual expert-practitioner collaboration, the research aims to support the newly charged clinicians-cum-commissioners in carving and constructing their role.

From this winding path I have travelled, this much I know:

On transferability: This is much more than a buzzword that should be shoe-horned into job applications.   Transferable skills (e.g. time management, creative thinking, skilful communication) are equipment for the journey to find the niche that will provide decades of fruitful research.  Often, the PhD is but a baby-step.  Good transferable skills enable the simultaneous pursuit of the research matter at hand and space for future development.  Further career options, such as one’s level or style of external collaboration (which is practically a pre-requisite in cutting-edge research), are founded on these skills.

On translation: Of critical importance to the art of collaboration is the act of communication.  Each of the three projects detailed above (my PhD included) had built within it a direct link to the world of practice, and not simply as subjects and/or ‘consumers’ of the research but as, effectively, co-producers.  Rather than simply reporting conclusions to the outside world, there is a need to involve other voices in our research, even as echoes from sounding boards.  Translation is about clarifying and creating consensus around meanings, understanding the relative significance of research avenues and prioritising relevance with interested parties.

On transcending boundaries: As academics we’re naturally inclined to categorise, to create schemas and tables and to construct labels as we seek to understand the world around us and to share those understandings.  As part of that process, we demarcate and, perhaps inadvertently, we create boundaries.  The division drawn between academia and non-academia is one such boundary and, although the drive towards working across this is certainly taking hold (as demonstrated above), it is often pursued under the banner of ‘impact’, which is a notion predicated on the separation of academia and non-academia, or of science and society.  The spirit of collaboration will surely win out over impact for impact’s sake, but we could do more to transcend boundaries within the academic environment, too.  Too often there are separate puddles of research activity that could be pooled, which have led to calls for greater inter-disciplinarity, for reflecting the inter-connectedness of the ‘real world’ rather than departmental silos.

Beyond the indisputable knowledge creation born of cross-fertilisation in topics that straddle subjects, there is also intellectual gain in having some check-and-balance to the fundamentalism that can develop in isolation.  Further along the same middle path, we could check the religion of (natural) science and build bridges with society through social science.  Focussing greater attention here will require returning to the philosophical underpinnings of research whilst taking care not to return to the top of the ivory tower, all in the widest possible pursuit of learning and teaching.


Tatum Matharu completed her PhD at INLOGOV in 2012. She is a Research Fellow at Birmingham Business School, working on a project (described above) funded by the National Institute for Health Research, partnered with the University’s Health Services Management Centre. Her research interests include institutional design and development, critical methodologies and quality in health service development.

It’s not easy (but not too hard) to be a PhD student

Pobsook Chamchong

With the movie ‘Man of Steel’ now showing in cinemas I’ve heard the song ‘Superman (it’s not easy)’ again, and it made me think about my life as a PhD student. Before I became a PhD student, I thought that it wouldn’t be that hard compared with being Superman – but it turns out that it’s not so easy either.

Being a second year PhD student, I have responded to many questions about PhD life from my friends – prospective students and those just thinking about studying for a PhD. So, I think this is a good opportunity to share my experience about the life of a PhD student.

Accessing data

My thesis concerns investigating collaboration between local governments in England and Thailand, selecting cases in Thailand is not difficult as I worked with key people in this policy area before I came to study in the UK.

However, selecting the UK cases was more difficult. Although I could use the criteria related to my research objective and questions that I developed to select the cases, the issue of the gatekeeper, i.e. the key person who makes the final decision to allow the researcher access to the case study data (such as the chief executive of a local authority) gave rise to difficulties in collecting data. But with the support of INLOGOV I was able to make use of contacts, connections and knowledge of local authority collaboration in England – combined with a purposive sampling technique – to enable me to avoid problems associated with gatekeeping.


The supervisor is the most important person in your PhD studies, and I’ve had quite a few questions about the most appropriate ways to communicate with supervisors. I have supervision meetings twice a month, which is the standard procedure at INLOGOV.

From my experience, I found it useful to tell supervisors both what you do know and what you don’t know. Don’t hesitate to ask them questions because you will get useful advice. Moreover, I learnt from my supervisors that doing a PhD is not a linear process and it’s more like doing a jigsaw puzzle. So, it’s useful to be flexible and revise your work after receiving recommendations from your supervisors and the progress review committee – and to be strong enough to make academic arguments to support the choices that you have made.

A supportive environment

I found that it’s very important to have friends who are in the same boat as me. Unlike many universities in the UK, PhD students in the social sciences at the University of Birmingham study core modules in social research in the first year in order to gain skills and knowledge to be applied in their PhD studies. Besides this knowledge and skills, however, studying these modules allowed me to meet and work with other PhD students – we’ve become friends and help each other, travel together and discuss issues.

Being an international student and living outside my home country, it’s so good to have friends with whom I can share my thoughts and feelings, discuss both academic and personal issues, and give me a big hug when needed! Moreover, as the university provides offices and facilities for PhD students to work together, this hub has provided a chance for me to meet senior students. I don’t hesitate to ask them for advice, and these students are more than happy to help with any challenges that they’ve met before.

Balancing personal and academic life

Finally, one of the most important things is to find a way to balance your personal life and your academic life. Studying cannot be the only thing – I can say I study quite hard but I also play hard! Even though I’m a full time student that doesn’t mean I have to work office hours Monday-Friday, and one of the really nice things about doing a PhD is having the flexibility to work at different times of the week as suits my circumstances.

So, for all the reasons above, I think that being a PhD student at INLOGOV isn’t easy – but it’s not too hard to be either. Why not come and see for yourself?


Pobsook Chamchong is a Thai Government Scholarship PhD student at INLOGOV. Before coming to Birmingham, she previously worked as a researcher for the Thailand Political Development Councils and for the Thailand Reform Committee.