In an in-depth interview to the German publication Der Spiegel, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras explained why the “Institutions” are different from the “Troika” in more than just name only, and why even though Greece seeks additional loans, they are not “bailouts” this time.
The Troika/Institutions language “is not a question of terminology,” Tsipras said. It has to do with the core of the issue. Every country in Europe has to work together with these institutions. But that is something very different than a troika that is beholden to nobody. Its officials came to Greece to strictly monitor us. Now, we are again speaking directly with the institutions. Europe has become more democratic because of this change.
“The reforms won’t be approved by the institutions. They have a say in the process and establish a framework that applies to all in Europe. Previously, the situation was such that the troika would send an email telling the Greek government what it had to do. Our planned reforms are necessary, but we are deciding on them ourselves. They aren’t being forced onto us by anyone. We want to stop large-scale tax evasion and tax fraud more than anybody. Thus far, it has only been the low earners and not the wealthy that paid. We also want to make the state more efficient.”
As for more loans, “I wouldn’t call [them] a bailout,” Tsipras explained. Instead, “I would say that Greece has financing needs. We have massively consolidated our budget in recent years and now have primary surpluses instead of deficits. But we still can’t borrow money ourselves on the capital markets. To do so, we have to win back trust, become competitive and return to growth. Until that time, though, we have to finance ourselves in another way.”
But doesn’t that still translate to Eurozone money? “Look, it’s not about philanthropy for Greece, Tsipras insists. “It’s about joint responsibility and European solidarity. If Greece can’t service its debt, that also has an effect on our partners. As such, a safety net for Greece is necessary and we also have to return to the capital markets as rapidly as possible. But that can’t be combined with a program that has led to a situation of social distress; we need one that brings growth.”
Tsipras says he will succeed where his predecessors have failed “because we are not part of the old system, as [they] were. In particular, we will restrict the unrestrained activities of the oligarchs. They control the media and still receive huge loans from the banks, in contrast to normal companies. We would also like to monitor the work of state suppliers, which have established vast cartels. No reasonable person can be opposed to such a plan, and we are determined to tackle it.”
Tsipras also explained his six-point reforms plan: “First: combating the humanitarian crisis. We want to create an electronic Citizen Smart Card that can be used to access public services for which applications to seven authorities had to be made in the past. The needy will also be able to use it to pay for groceries and electricity. Second: the necessary administration reform to make the state more efficient. Third: the introduction of a rate payment plan for tax debts. The fourth reform has to do with tax administration and the fifth aims at the creation of a politically independent tax council. The sixth is the creation of a task force for targeted tax audits so as to combat tax evasion in the middle classes as well.”
But how, Spiegel asked, does he justify more spending? “We have already presented a draft law in parliament. It corresponds with our promise to establish social justice. The humanitarian crisis is collateral damage resulting from the bailout program. Today, 35 percent of Greeks live beneath the poverty line and 600,000 children don’t have enough to eat, according to UNICEF. We have already received EU funding for the fight against the humanitarian crisis and I will speak to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in the coming days to find out if we can receive additional funds.”
Spiegel pointed out that the rest of Europe is concerned about Greece’s plan to allow Greeks to pay back taxes in installments lasting as long as 100 months. Wouldn’t that cause revenues to dry up completely? “Quite to the contrary,” Tsipras said. “It will create immediate revenues for the state. At the moment, the tax debt owed by Greeks is increasing by a billion euros each month. We want to reverse this development. And of course we will not offer this to people who are capable of paying but want to cheat.”
Tsipras believes his cracking down on tax evaders will work. He explains that “there are two Greeces. The one Greece is that of 4 million people who live below the poverty line. You can see the other Greece if you go out on a summer evening in a Bouzouki nightclub along the coast or if you go to Mykonos. It is the Greece of the tax evaders and the cheats. We know full well that many of these bars and restaurants don’t issue any receipts. We are going to be very strict against this Greece.
“We are forming a task force for targeted checks and its staffing is to be changed every two months so that it doesn’t become corrupt. We have a minister who is responsible for combatting tax evasion, a former public prosecutor. An independent organization is to be set up under him that is not influenced by the political system.”
But spending all of his time negotiating is not going to generate changes any faster, he says. “During the past 30 days, I have spent 90 percent of my time negotiating how we can meet deadlines in order to secure our financing. That is in no way productive or creative. The meeting of the Euro Group on Feb. 20, when our loan agreement was extended, was an important step. A decision was made to give us breathing room, but the ECB is still holding onto the rope that is around our necks.”
DON’T REPEL SYRIZA
Tsipras emphasized that “the growing civil movement for a change of course in the south would then become an anti-European current. By punishing SYRIZA in Greece, you do not slow the dynamic of Podemos in Spain — instead you compel it to become anti-European. By doing so, you strengthen Beppe Grillo in Italy, Marine Le Pen in France — and opponents of the European Union like Nigel Farage in Britain will be very, very pleased.”
But Greece was isolated during Eurozone negotiations, even by Southern Europe, Siegel countered. “One cannot speak of a conflict between countries,” the prime minister replied. “Greece does not divide states into friends and foes. It was a criticism of the austerity policies. The interpretation that Greece is isolated is entirely wrong. Throughout the entire time of the negotiations, we have experienced solidarity from all of Europe of a kind we haven’t seen since the times of the dictatorship.”
CLASH IS POLITICAL, NOT ETHNIC
What about the tensions between Germany and Greece? They are political, not ethnic, Tsipras explains. “There is in fact an unfair climate towards Greece in Germany. Media like the Bild newspaper portray all Greeks as greedy bums and con artists. And here in Greece, Germans are portrayed as hard-nosed people who have enmity towards us. But it’s not about a clash between people — it’s one between conservative and leftist forces. The one side is pushing for austerity and the other wants growth.”
Why has Tsipras visited other European leaders, but not German Chancellor Angela Merkel? Because “I received an invitation from François Hollande, from Matteo Renzi, from the Austrian federal chancellor and the Belgian prime minister and even from David Cameron, but I have not received an invitation from Angela Merkel. If I were to receive an invitation from the chancellor, I would accept it immediately. I have telephoned with her and we have spoken during summits. I think we have a good relationship and that there’s good chemistry between us. [But] I do not go to places where I have not been invited.”
LEAVE VAROUFAKIS ALONE
Spiegel pressed Tsipras on Yanis Varoufakis, contending that the outspoken Greek Finance Minister “provokes” people. “We don’t meddle in German domestic policy and dictate to Germany who becomes finance minister or chancellor,” Tsipras replied. “That is why we would prefer our partners to let us decide who we choose as our representatives.” Nonetheless, Tsipras acknowledged that he has asked Varoufakis, but also all of his ministers in general, to grant fewer interviews to the press.
Source: The National Herald