The European Union warned Greek lawmakers yesterday (28 June) that their country faced immediate default unless they approve a hated austerity plan, as strikers began new mass protests against the EU/IMF-imposed measures
Philippe Lamberts is a member of the European Parliament and co-spokesperson of the Greens/European Free Alliance group. His background includes being an engineer and manager in the private sector.
He was speaking to EurActiv’s Georgi Gotev.
As a representative of the Greens/EFA group, you are probably critical of the kind of measures being imposed on Greece. Basically there may be better ways to find a solution to the problem than those proposed under the austerity plan. Cutting military spending is one…
Exactly! In Germany, before he left office, the defence minister [Karl-Theodor] zu Guttenberg said « OK, let’s embark on a drastic plan of cuts in the military, we have to close installations, we have to shrink the armed forces ».
I have yet to hear any word on that from Greece. And interestingly you should have heard [Anders Fogh] Rasmussen, the NATO secretary-general, very recently praise the few countries who are spending more than 2% of GDP on defence. And these were France, the UK, Albania believe it or not, and…Greece!
Yes, but let’s face it, with Turkey…
No, I don’t buy any of it. Sorry about that but I mean the ‘Turkish threat’, come on! Turkey will never attack Greece. Of course there can be skirmishes in the Aegean Sea but you will never see an outright invasion of Greece by Turkey. This will not happen.
Because Turkey knows that she would face the wrath of NATO and she would face the wrath of the European Union. So this will not happen! So this is an excuse, an alibi, to keep a big military apparatus. I won’t agree with that.
Second point: the rich in Greece are not contributing and that’s a key point. I mean the anger that you see in the streets is that basically because the expenditure cuts hit the poorest in society, the weakest in society.
And the tax hikes actually first are not effective, I mean people don’t pay even if the taxation code is made harsher on the rich, basically they don’t pay because the tax authority is really not able to collect taxes because it has a tradition of not doing so.
When the taxes are too high, nobody pays them in Greece, they say.
But that again is an excuse for people to say « Well you should be soft on taxation ». People should realise, including the rich, that Greece is on fire. This is really the case. And so when your home is on fire there is really no time for dithering and saying « OK we’ll be soft and nice ».
And by the way, they are neither soft nor nice to the poorest in society, so why should they be soft and nice to the richest in Greece? And if they need the help of the member states to document wealth that is sitting outside of the country, well we should do that, that is part of solidarity with Greece.
Do you have any, I would say, criticism as to the way political families in the European Union have been dealing with the issue? Take for instance the EPP group, where I don’t think Mr Barroso was able to put in line Mr Samaras.
No, that’s clear.
And I’m surprised that I’m hearing from a member of the Green group that the rich should pay more…I’ve never heard anything like that from the Socialist group!
I mean, ask them! I cannot speak on their behalf! But you know people, citizens are usually not stupid and they understand when there is an emergency, when there is a fire and that something needs to be done. And if that means an effort, rolling up your sleeves, contributing more than what you used to do, people accept that.
But there are two big conditions. One, the effort must make sense, that people must have a perception that the effort will deliver results. Second, that the effort is spread and distributed in a just and fair way. These are the two things that are missing in the actions that the PASOK government is proposing to Greece.
Some elements are needed and I welcome them. But it’s the overall balance of the plan that is just not there and so people are angry and rightfully so.
What do you think will happen a few days from now when the austerity package will be voted on?
Then Europe will free the last tranche of the first rescue package and we will officially announce the second rescue package. But then again it fails to recognise one basic fact, which is that the debt level in Greece with or without the package is unsustainable. So the reimbursement of the 350 billion euros plus interest to the predators will not happen.
Because the ability of the Greek economy to create the surpluses to pay for that interest is just not there. And it will take at least a decade to bring Greece to an ability to do that. And that means that at some point in time you have to get back to the basic fact that you will have to restructure the Greek debt in one way or another.
And it is better you anticipate that and do it in an orderly way, than just let the Greek government default in a disorderly way. And it may be forced to do so!
Because just imagine that people withdraw their money from their bank account in Greece, then basically they fill the streets in a way that is similar to what we saw in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere, I mean what will be the options of the Greek government? So I prefer to anticipate and that’s basically the job of politicians: to take the decisions in advance rather than to let the shit happen!
Can I sum up saying that you prefer an early, orderly default…
Rather than a late and disorderly default, of course!