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Interview of FM Droutsas in the German daily 'Die Welt’(11.11.2010)
· “We are relieved with the positive outcome of the elections. The message from the voters is a declaration of support, the consent of Greek voters on the programme followed by the government.
· “The Greek people are, first of all, grateful to Germany and all our EU partners for their solidarity in these difficult times. But I would like to make it clear that nothing is given to Greece for free. These are loans that we will pay up in full to the last euro, including the not so negligible interest payments.”
· “In my view, it is important not to blame an entire people for the mistakes made by governments. There is a nice Aesop’s fable about the hard-working ant and the lazy grasshopper. This image was often put forward by the media in relation to Greece, but it is mistaken. Greeks are hard-working, educated ants, interested in the common good.”
Journalist: Mister Minister, are you relieved with the results of Sunday’s municipal elections? Given that your Prime Minister had essentially declared them as an electoral test on the government’s austerity plan and threatened with early elections.
Mr. Droutsas: We are relieved with the positive outcome of the elections. The message from the voters is a declaration of support, the consent of Greek voters on the programme followed by the government. We must not forget or underestimate the conditions under which these elections were carried out. Municipal elections are always a good opportunity for voters to send a message to the incumbent government. The last twelve months were very tough on the Greek public. Each citizen was directly affected by the measures that the government had to take. The opposition kept a particularly aggressive and populist stance, something that could have very negative consequences in this given situation.
Journalist: Prime Minister Papandreou linked these elections with his personal political fate and threatened with early elections. Isn’t that blackmail?
Mr. Droutsas: Such notions are absolutely wrong. The decision to raise the dilemma clearly before candidates was a move that showed the Prime Minister’s responsible stance. It was an urgent call for them to take these elections seriously. The Prime Minister’s concern is not to keep his chair, but to complete the reforms.
Journalist: Particularly in Germany, which along with France is a big contributor to Greece’ rescue package, this tendency of Greeks to strike and protest raises eyebrows. The result is that some reforms are not implemented in the end, reforms that Germans have already had to accept. Take the example of the retirement age. Have people in Greece realised that the country is already lagging behind on many issues compared with other European countries?
Mr. Droutsas: There is no doubt that there is a need for serious reforms. The government had to act quickly in order to avoid the worst, a national bankruptcy. The direct consequences were painful cuts on salaries and pensions. But we need structural reforms in order to tackle the root causes, we need structural reforms which the government has implemented in record time: the tax reform, the radical overhaul – for Greek standards – of the pensions system. The reform of the healthcare system is also under review. Even the municipal elections were an innovation for Greece, as a new electoral system was implemented based on the administrative reform which reduced administration levels from five to three. There are no longer 50 administrative regions but 13, and the previous municipalities and communities which exceeded 1,000 were reduced to a bit more than 300. In this way, we restricted the size of the administrative machine, reduced public expenses and risks of corruption.
Journalist: Today, when we as German journalists write something about Greece, we immediately receive hundreds of comments online, expressing the anger of the Germans. You know Germans very well. What is your explanation on that?
Mr. Droutsas: On the one hand, I fully understand these sensitivities. There had been many mistakes in our country in the past. But now we want to come out of this vicious circle. Greece is not a poor country, but in previous years it was badly run by an oversized public which was ineffective and squandered resources. But now we are in the process of building a new Greece.
Journalist: How would you explain to a German citizen that they get to carry the burden of the Greek administration's mistakes?
Mr. Droutsas: The Greek people are, first of all, grateful to Germany and all our EU partners for their solidarity in these difficult times. But I would like to make it clear that nothing is given to Greece for free. These are loans that we will pay up in full to the last euro, including the not so negligible interest payments. We would be particularly grateful is you could show what Greek citizens have done in the last months and that they are willing to continue. In this reform process, we need the recognition of our EU partners.
Journalist: Of course we recognise this to you. But at the beginning of the Greek crisis, Europe was startled by the intensity of protests against the measures, which entered into force long ago in all the other European countries. Perhaps Europeans expected Greeks to be more humble given the destructive, almost irreversible bankruptcy, the deliberate deceit of their EU partners?
Mr. Droutsas: To me it is important not to blame an entire people for the mistakes made by governments. There is a nice Aesop’s fable about the hard-working ant and the lazy grasshopper. This image was often put forward by the media in relation to Greece, but it is mistaken. Greeks are hard-working educated ants, interested in the common good.
Journalist: Despite the rescue package, Germans are particularly critical vis-ΰ-vis Greeks. Given the destruction the Nazis wrought to Greece, your fellow nationals would have expected lower tones. And you?
Mr. Droutsas: Lately, I have been hearing praises and words of recognition. So it is even more painful for Greeks, at a time of such sacrifices, to become the recipients of insulting criticism. But relations between Germany and Greece are at a particularly high level and cooperation between the two governments has never been so intensive, as far as I am aware. I hope that we will not go back to such raised tones.
Journalist: Many of your compatriots feel that the way the crisis has been addressed is not fair. Only the “little fish” get to pay, whereas the financial and political elite remain unaffected. In reality, there are serious obstacles to the penal prosecution of corrupt politicians, which in most cases render their conviction impossible.
Mr. Droutsas: There are still a lot of things to change, but the priority in all these measures should lie with social justice. On the top of our agenda are transparency and meritocracy, in order to eradicate corruption. In the near future we will simplify the process of penal prosecution of politicians accused of corruption. We have already set up investigative committees within the Hellenic Parliament, which are looking into cases of suspected corruption.
Journalist: Greece is the only EU country, which has an active leftist terrorist scene operating uninterrupted for decades. Now it touches Europe as well. A package containing explosives reached the Chancellery in fact . Is Greece turning into an exporting country of terrorism?
Mr. Droutsas: First of all, let me make the following realisation: These cases are not connected with international terrorism. Our investigations are conducted in a professional manner. We briefed all the involved countries in time and secured cooperation with our EU partners. As soon as we were informed that a package containing explosives was aboard a plane headed for Rome, addressed to the head of the Italian government Silvio Berlusconi, we worked jointly with the Italian authorities in order to land our plane in Bologna, and exterminate the package with a controlled explosion.
Journalist: How do you explain this anger, this unusual barbarity in protests against authority? Is Greece’s problem with terrorism the same as with RAF in Germany in the 70s?
Mr. Droutsas: No, this is not true in any event. You should not forget that Greece went through a military dictatorship. The democratic sentiment in Greece, which was particularly repressed in the period of the junta, is very strong. Small marginal groups are responsible for package-bombs that find no support in Greek society. Greece is a safe country.
Journalist: You have lived for quite a while in Austria and Germany. Which things, laws or institutions would you like to establish in your country out of the things you came to know and appreciate during the “German chapter of your life”?
Mr. Droutsas: The element of the German population that I would like us to import into Greece is a strong sense of discipline. The natural conscience in Germany as regards respecting every day rules. Starting with the Traffic Code to respecting nature and efficiently sorting out waste. These elements are deeply ingrained into the conscience of German citizens, whereas Greeks do not consider them self-evident yet. In Berlin, I met with my old friend Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who mentioned the discussion currently going through the German Parliament about “preimplantation genetic diagnosis”. It is an issue that our societies have to deal with. But in the Greek political and social discourse, this issue is not even on the agenda. This deeply saddens me. Such a discussion is perhaps a luxury at a time when we must save our country.