Greece is being scapegoated
Interview of former Prime Minister George A. Papandreou on the Chrstiane Amanpour’s program (CNN)
Christiane Amanpour: Mister Papandreou, welcome to the program.
George A. Papandreou : Very nice to be with you,Christiane.
Christiane Amanpour: You know, as I was getting ready for this interview, I remembered sitting down with you more than two years ago, back in February 2010, and I asked you the following question, and here is what you answered as well.
EXTRACT FROM 2010 INTERVIEW:
Christiane Amanpour: You are in a major crisis at home in Greece. Many are saying, “If you want our help, you are going to have to take some very painful measures, which it seems your country is not prepared to do and your government is not prepared to do.” Am I correct?
George A. Papandreou: I would like to see this crisis as an opportunity to make some major changes, to really turn the page in the Greek economy, but not only the Greek economy, but also change some of the bad practices that unluckily we have had in the past, for example corruption and lack of transparency,clientelistic politics. With the measures we are taking now we will become, I believe, a model country in transparency.
Christiane Amanpour: So, Mister Papandreou, that was more than two years ago. You talked about creating a model country. What happened?
George A. Papandreou: Well, first of all, I would stick with this as an opportunity to really change the country.
And as a matter of fact, two years on, we have made major reforms and this is not just something I am saying. Greece is number one in reforms amongst OECD countries, according to the OECD.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of pain. I think one of the major mistakes that was made is that we should have focused more, at what I said, the reforms in Greece, rather than pushing austerity and cutting the deficit so quickly. That, I think, hurt and it undermined the need to make very deep reforms, which we have done up to a certain point.
Christiane Amanpour: How do you feel right now? I hearanger, I hear some sadness for the state that Greece is in.
George A. Papandreou: Well I think we all feel very bad. And I think that one of the reasons is that when we began the program, I would say the vast majority of Greeks were very much in favor of the program, saying that this is an opportunity to change. We have been living two years of constant insecurity. Who is going to invest? Christiane, just let me ask you. Would you invest in a country, when everyday there are analysts around the world who say, “You may or you may not be in the euro”?
Two years without growth, two years without investment, two years with lack of consumer confidence. Two years with people pulling out their money from the banks. This can’t go on. We need to have an end to this saga, a positive end to this saga, where we can feel that we are secure within the euro.
And yes, growth will come. Certainly we need to have a wider European policy for growth and for unemployment, but then there will be a sense of security. If we don’t have that, we will see more extremes, more nationalism and undermining, not only of Greece, but of the European project itself.
Christiane Amanpour: The IMF Director, Christine Lagarde, has said, “The problem with Greece is that they don’t want to pay their taxes.” What is the root of what happened in Greece?
George A. Papandreou: Many people have been pontificating and patronizing and moralizing and scapegoating and saying, “You Greeks, you are the problem.”
I would say we Greeks we have a problem; we are not the problem. If we were the problem, it would be very convenient. You kick Greece out, everything is fine. But what happened in Spain? What about Portugal? What about Italy? What about the whole of the eurozone?
We need more cooperation and less simplification and prejudice about what has to happen.
Christiane Amanpour: As you know Mr. Barroso has explained very clearly that they had given so much money to Greece, much more in terms of percentage that even the Marshal Plan did. So, they believe it is not about the money, it is about the politics.
My question to you is, does Greek politics, do Greek politicians have any more credibility either on the international stage or with the people?
George A. Papandreou: Obviously we need to keep on track the major reforms, because we Greeks first of all want change. We know that there are problems in our system, we know that we are not competitive; we know that we have great potential, whether it is in our agriculture, whether it is in our green energy and our sun, whether it is in our tourism or whether it is in shipping or aquaculture.
We have great potential, but we need to manage our country well. Now that hasn’t been done over the last decades and that is of course what we are paying for.
Christiane Amanpour: Do you believe as many do now that Greece will exit the euro? There are contingency plans made all over the place.
George A. Papandreou: Well, I hope not. And, you know,Christiane, another problem we have been facing is…
Christiane Amanpour: I know you hope not, but do you think it will be forced?
George A. Papandreou: Well, let me put it this way. The Greek people do not want to exit the euro and I believe the Greek people have already shown that they have made major sacrifices to stay within the eurozone.
But I believe this is something that also other Europeans have to decide what we want to do with the euro. You know, if Spain reaches a point where it cannot pay for its debt, it cannot finance its economy, that is going to be a big blow to the euro and that is why we need deeper integration. You call it Eurobond, you call it something else, you call it ECB coming in; we need deeper integration.
We also need some other things. We need growth. We are in a recession.
Christiane Amanpour: We have seen that the fringe parties have done very well around Europe and of course in Greece. We have also seen parties and politicians likening the German Chancellor and the German politicians to the Nazis, to Hitler. I mean, is that appropriate? Does that worry you, that kind of populism, nationalism?
George A. Papandreou: We have to get away from this nationalism. Christiane, we have to get away from this simplification of “You are to blame” or “I am to blame,” the scapegoating from whatever side; because that is undermining the basic principle of what Europe is about.
Europe is about leaving behind our ethnic differences, our national differences, and working together to solve these major problems. And the major problem was, of course, the financial system and the euro system, which was just under construction, it hasn’t been completed.
But let’s look at the real issues and let’s see how we can turn Greece around to be as I said earlier, two years ago, a model country. A model country for Europe and for Southeastern Europe and the Mediterranean.
Don’t forget, Christiane, you know these issues here. We are a linchpin to the Middle East, to the Northern Africa, to the Balkans. It is very important that Greece succeeds, even for geopolitical, geostrategic reasons, for Europe.
Christiane Amanpour: Do you believe that if Alexis Tsipraswins and is able to make a coalition or wins outright that would be good for success?
George A. Papandreou: I would have hoped that we already would have had a government from the previous election, obviously. His party is responsible for not forming a government. So that was not obviously the most credible of acts.
But I would hope now that we will form a government and that everybody will realize what the real parameters and what the real challenges are. We need to change Greece, whether austerity is too stiff or not is a different question. But we need to go deep into reform. We began it two years ago, we have continued it and we need to continue, to be a competitive, sustainable and proud Greece.
Christiane Amanpour: Former Prime Minister Papandreou, thank you so much for joining me.
George A. Papandreou: Thank you very much, Christiane. Nice talking to you.