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Alternate FM Xenogiannakopoulou’s interview on NET 105.8, with journalist P. Tsoutsias Athens , 23 December 2010
Mr. Tsoustsias: Good morning Ms. Xenogiannakopoulou.
Ms. Xenogiannakopoulou: Good morning and many happy returns.
Mr. Tsoustsias: Let me start with the proposal that concerns you and the Foreign Ministry: the Eurobond proposal submitted by the Prime Minister. Why did Mr. Papandreou take this initiative rather than moving via citizens’ initiatives, which might have helped more with collecting signatures?
Ms. Xenogiannakopoulou: The answer is very simple: Right now, as you know, the Lisbon Treaty provision is going to be implemented – a provision we fought for, as Greece – so that a people’s legislative initiative can be institutionalized.
What does this mean? It means that the Treaty says that if you collect a million signatures or more in European countries, it isn’t just the European Commission that can take initiatives for draft Regulations or Directives – the equivalent on the national level of a draft law brought to Parliament by a Ministry. Now, a citizens’ initiative can table something for a European decision.
Mr. Tsoustsias: Let’s focus on the procedural side, because it is important. Let’s say a million signatures are collected. Is the Commission obliged to discuss it or table it? Or is it simply obliged to look at it, with the option of rejecting it?
Ms. Xenogiannakopoulou: The Commission cannot be compelled in its decision-making.
Mr. Tsoustsias: That’s something else, naturally …
Ms. Xenogiannakopoulou: Decision-making will be carried out with the Council and the European Parliament. But there is the obligation to consider the issue when there are a million European signatures. What’s important here is that it is clear that we are mounting a struggle – first of all as a government – in the relevant EU organs. And remember that when George Papandreou first mentioned the Eurobond issue, he was alone at the beginning.
Mr. Tsoustsias: You’re wrong here – pardon me for interrupting. The Eurobond issue – and I know this very well from reportage – has been on the table for a year or two, and no one …
Ms. Xenogiannakopoulou: I mean on the European Council level, the Foreign Ministers. You’re talking about the public discussion.
Mr. Tsoustsias: Yes, the public discussion …
Ms. Xenogiannakopoulou: It has been under public discussion for many years now. When I say Papandreou was alone, I mean on the level of Prime Ministers in the European Council. I remind you that in October – and we talked after the October European Council – he was virtually by himself. After that, however, things matured. You know, on the one hand, Europe is unwieldy and slow with decisions, but things do move ahead and mature. And the deterioration of the economic situation played a role, as we saw with Ireland, as well.
And so from October to December, Trichet left this possibility open, and Juncker came out and supported it openly. So the battle has to be fought on many levels. It has to be waged on the level of the Council, on the level of the European Parliament, where there is support from more Political Groups. George Papandreou’s proposal is for European civil society to mobilize at the same time. This has political and symbolic significance.
Mr. Tsoustsias: Hopefully it will also have a practical result.
Ms. Xenogiannakopoulou: It’s gaining ground. It’s being discussed more and more. You see the Luxembourg Prime Minister and the EUROGROUP President, who is tabling it officially now. And do you know why this is of value? Because it points up the European dimension of the crisis and the need for a cohesive European response. The crisis may have differing characteristics in each country, but it is also a European crisis. We need to have consensus in the eurozone, a political response on the European level, and solidarity so that we don’t have ‘two speeds’, to the detriment of the regions within Europe. Right now we need a comprehensive European development and social strategy in addition to the financial aspects. That’s what we are seeking.
Mr. Tsoustsias: There were Pasok MPs in the debate on the budget who levelled very strong criticism at aspects of government policy and more: the budget, regardless of whether they voted in favor of it. Mr. Papachristos didn’t vote for it, but regardless of that – like Vaso Papandreou, who, judging from her speech, doesn’t believe this budget can be implemented.
Ms. Xenogiannakopoulou: I think it benefits the Parliament, the political system, for the MPs to have a voice and express views. Particularly at a difficult time. Don’t forget that all of us who are elected MPs come into contact with citizens. So we convey their anxiety and concern.
At the same time, however, we need to say that the Pasok MPs support these difficult measures consciously, with responsibility, with a sense of duty. Precisely because our country has to come through this difficult state of affairs. I also think that an issue has emerged that the Prime Minister himself raised with the Pasok MPs: that an effort has to be made towards greater discussion and preparation before bills are put to the vote. MPs are right to raise this issue. Often, of course, there is urgency; time is of the essence. We Ministers know that we are obliged to deal with emergency situations. But I really do believe that MPs have to have views and we have to recognize their right to these views.
Mr. Tsoustsias: Right, they need to have views, but at some point they might judge that they can’t vote for a given article; that they disagree. Will they have to see that as an exit from the party, as well.
Ms. Xenogiannakopoulou: Look, expressing your opinion carries corresponding responsibility.
Mr. Tsoustsias: Naturally – God forbid!
Let’s go back a little bit to the issues we started with: Is a post-2013 restructuring of the Greek debt being discussed?
Ms. Xenogiannakopoulou: There is no such issue. There is no such discussion. The Prime Minister cleared that up categorically. The Finance Minister has also made it clear.
Mr. Tsoustsias: It’s not in our interest to open such a discussion – as we said regarding the extension? But in the end the extension was tabled.
Ms. Xenogiannakopoulou: The extension is something completely different. The extension has to do with repayment. It was a decision taken on 28 November at that critical meeting of the EUROGROUP and the Finance Ministers. The extension has nothing to do with restructuring.
2011 will be a difficult and key year for pointing up other aspects of our policy – in addition to the return to financial health – with greater intensity. Mainly for boosting the economy and growth, supporting jobs and ensuring an effective safety net. That is the critical issue. We have to get through this difficult state of affairs with the greatest possible solidarity and common effort.
Mr. Tsoustsias: Thank you very much. Happy New Year!
Ms. Xenogiannakopoulou: Take care.