Interview on “Euronews”, with journalist Fariba Mavaddat
George Papandreou was the leader of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok).
In 2011 the former Prime Minister found himself in uncharted waters as he battled for his political survival as Greece fought a debt crisis and its future in the eurozone.
His decision to call a referendum on a EU rescue package was considered a dangerous move by his critics.
Fariba Mavaddat: “Last week saw violent demonstrations by the Greek and Spanish citizens, who are facing budget cuts and further austerity measures by their respective governments, find themselves in a whirlpool of financial suffering with no end in the horizon.
“In the case of Greece, the so called Troika will have to decide if the country has done well enough to receive another tranche of financial help, but the Greek are well behind their qualifying programme.
I am with George Papandreou, the former Prime Minister of Greece. Welcome to Euronews, now how do you assess the current situation in Greece?”
George Α. Papandreou: “First of all I would disagree that we are behind the programme. I believe that this coalition government will come up with a package which will be acceptable with great sacrifices from the Greek people, of course and painful sacrifices, but will be acceptable to our creditors and to our partners in the European union, but under the deficits and debts, is this problem of the need for reform, for change to make our economy sustainable. So, I have said from the very beginning, we need to have the time to make the reform because that is what in the end will make us sustainable. Just cutting , is going to be painful and it is not going to give all the results necessary.”
Fariba Mavaddat: “But, this requires time and time is not on your side. You see, already after two years there is a 30 billion Euro gap, the economy is not doing well, and extra financial help by Europe has proved not helpful either. In short, governments say Greece is no longer a liability, it’s an impossibility.”
George Α. Papandreou: “I would disagree, because actually we were not given time. Two years when I was prime minister, there is a very short time to reform. To cut yes… we did something which has not been done by any other country: 6.5% budget deficit cut is a record in the Eurozone. No other country has done so much. There are also other major problems that have occured because of the problems of the Euro. Had many of the decisions we made today, in the last few weeks, the last few months in Europe, in the ECB, had they been taken in 2010, we never would have the contagion, and I believe strongly we would have contained the Greek problem to a much smaller amount of money.”
Fariba Mavaddat: “Here, we have two problems: that is the problem of the government performing properly, and it hasn’t… and then secondly there is the people. There is absolutely no guarantee to the EU governments that by further financial help to Greece, the problem will be solved, and the Greek people can only take so much.”
George Α. Papandreou: “First of all, I agree with you that the Greek people can only take so much. The pressure is very high and the pain is very strong. I think that there has been stereotyping about Greece which is wrong. Greeks, for example, are not the laziest. We worked hardest in the European Union according to OECD figures. I give you on very small example but very important. Everything, every expenditure in Greece is now on line. Everyone around the world can check what expenditures we have. That we did. That was one of the reforms, small you may say, but very crucial.”
Fariba Mavaddat: “Yes, but you see, there is a difference between coming up with policies for reform, and putting them into practice. You are talking about transparency, now a number of officials, top officials in Greece are now under investigation for corruption . A number of those served in your party and in your government under your management. These things the European governments find difficult to digest and to come to terms with.”
George Α. Papandreou: “I certainly began through transparency. If there are cases, they must go to the court, I don’t want to judge persons because they may be innocent of what they are being accused, others may be guilty. I have called for absolute transparency and justice, and we are changing this. Tell me, if you are living in a country where there is uncertainty about whether you will move to another currency, you don’t invest, you don’t consume, the banks don’t lend, foreign investors don’t come. That is why there is recession. That is why there are many difficulties. That is not only a Greek responsibility. That is very much a European responsibility.”
Fariba Mavaddat: “The problem started with Greece to begin with…”
George Α. Papandreou: “The problem started in 2008 at the crash of Wall Street where the banking system had made terrible fraudulent activities around the world and that of course brought out some of the weak links in the Euro and many other countries. I say we first have our own responsibility to make our country better, but we have a problem but we are not the problem though.”
Fariba Mavaddat: “Mr. Papandreou, the Troika and European governments, look at hard figures and facts. They see that despite your promises, your economy is shrinking. They say how long can we support this country? You see, they have no trust in what you say.”
George Α. Papandreou: “We have improved a lot. No other country had cut the deficit so much, but it takes time. But this is also a partnership. This is a partnership where the problems of the Euro is also hitting us. It will be a tragedy for Greece if we leave and I would say it would be a tragedy for the Euro because there will contagion and this will affect the whole region; it will affect the Arab Spring, it will affect our relations with the Middle East, it will affect our relations with Turkey, with Russia, we will lose much of our potency as Europeans, but it will also affect the economies of Europe and create massive unemployment and recession around the world.”
Fariba Mavaddat: “In two years time which is not a long time, if they look at your performance and they come to the conclusion that you are incorrigible, then would you consider an exit package [from Europe]?”
George Α. Papandreou: “First of all, I am against an exit package and I think that we have shown more than anyone else that we can make reform. We have made major changes. It is a huge effort we have made and it has been compounded with difficulties because of this structural problems of the Euro, because you cannot have one country in the Euro which is credit worthy and the other country not credit worthy. This is where Europe has to come in. Not Spain alone, not Greece alone, not Portugal alone. I don’t care if they are conservative or socialist, they are trying to reform their countries. And the people are making sacrifices so let’s protect them, let’s protect them…”
Fariba Mavaddat: “By cutting out their pensions?”
George Α. Papandreou: “Well, that is why I am saying, we have to make the adjustment, a more mild one. We had to iron this out, we are still doing this, and much has changed in Greece, but the real problem was the problem of the governance.
“For example, looking at the question of tax havens, there is a lack of a system which collects taxes in an efficient way. I have put on the table many times the question of tax havens, the question of tax evasion.
“One of our major problems in Greece is not the average Greek tax evading, it is that many of the richer – not only in Greece but in other countries – can take their money out into tax havens . That is not the question of national law. We are talking about estimated 21 trillion dollars in tax havens around the world and we are looking for a few billions in Greece so let us look at some of the systemic problems.”
Fariba Mavaddat: “Mr. Papandreou, how do you realistically see the future of Europe given all these various voices, differences, divisions, nationalist ideas?”
George Α. Papandreou: “I think you made this very important point here. I would say, Europeanise globalisation rather than having Europe become a globalised anarchic if you like and a splintered continent assimilated by a globalised economy. We need to move for further integration. I believe there is a consciousness now in Europe that this is a wider issue , there are problems in countries but we can sit together, solve them and be a success as a European Union.”
Fariba Mavaddat: George Papandreou, thank you.