German Social Democrat Martin Schulz has found himself at the head of the European Parliament for this crucial stage of the Greek crisis – a hot seat he found time to quit for a short time to talk to euronews’ Efi Koustokosta.
“Finally there is an agreement but what we see is different approaches on the text. The Greek government says it won the first battle but on the other hand the Germans and other international key players say that it’s an old deal in new clothing. What do you think?”
President of the European Parliament
“Let’s be realistic. The government made concessions here and it’s not easy for them now to convince their citizens to be a little bit more patient to reduce a little bit their expectations and therefore the different interpretation is normal.
What we agreed is that we should on one hand get the Greek government to fulfil the promises they’ve made and stick to the programme and on the other hand the European partners should pay the 7,5 billion now. Then we win four months more time and these four months…”
“Let’s go a little bit back to the negotiations. It was 19 Eurozone ministers deciding this agreement. But at the end it seemed like it was a personal debate between the Germans and the Greeks, between Mr. Varoufakis and Mr. Schauble. What is your impression?”
“This is not a debate between Wolfgang Schauble and Mr. Varoufakis. This is a debate amongst 18 finance ministers with Mr. Varoufakis.
Other finance ministers not as well-known as Mr. Schauble were even more radical than Mr. Schauble. That the Germans have a strong influence is a result of the 27% they represent in the eurozone. But France has 20% and Italy 18%. These two countries together are 38% of the money given to Greece.
So, they have their voice as well. It’s not a fight of one against another. We must have a fight in favor of the Greek people.
“Mr Schulz, you know the behind the scenes of the negotiations well. How close were we to a grexit?”
“It depends on the government in Athens, it depends on the partners, if they are prepared to find a constructive compromise. I beg your pardon, I understand your question but I prefer not to discuss about theoretical options. I prefer to discuss about the concrete needs of citizens. I am not thinking about a ‘Grexit.’”
“You were the first of the EU officials to visit Mr. Tsipras when he was elected. What is your impression? Does he have a political plan for the future?”
“I always prefer to speak with people and not about people. That was the reason I went there. I knew him as an opposition leader. To be honest this is a new government with not so much experience in how to govern and not so much experience in international relations. Therefore, one or another improvement is for sure still possible.”
“What are your expectations from them during the next two months, four months of the extension?
“We can rely on what they say. One of the most important items to gain trust and to regain trust is when people can rely on agreements and promises.
Therefore, I found it counter-productive to have an agreement and next day the finance minister says yes but we must also discuss about other things. No.
We must agree now about concrete steps, the steps should be announced and then applied. That is the best way to gain trust. My expectation is let’s announce what we want to do and let’s then do what we announced.”
“Could you say that austerity and memorandums are over for Greece?”
“No. For sure Greece has to reduce its sovereign debt and must pay the debt. And by the way Greek debt was not decided in Berlin or in Brussels. It was decided in Athens. Therefore, the country has a certain responsibility but we know no country, neither Greece nor another country will ever bleed a public budget without more revenues, without more money for the country.
But what does it mean more money for the country? We need growth and employment. What we saw during the last few years, especially the philosophy of the International Monetary Fund, was only cut. Only cut is not sufficient.”
“Something that you all agree on, the Greek government and the creditors is that Greece needs reforms but structural reforms need time to show results. In the meantime the country needs money.”
“I think everybody is prepared to give Greece more time if the structural reforms are really credible and reliable and the structural reforms must affect first of all, a vital progress to be made by the government, the fight against tax evasion, tax fraud and to look to the revenues side of the budget and not only to the spending side.
Therefore for example to finish privatizations in a general way it’s wrong. I understand those who say we will not sell our public assets for nothing. OK.
But find investors like the Chinese who wanted to invest in the harbour in Piraeus, or the owner of the Fraport in Frankfurt! A company I know very well wants to invest in the airport in Athens. These are reliable investors. These are not bloody capitalists who want to introduce slavery in Greece.”
“What is the big challenge for the government? We can see right now some disagreements inside the government on the next steps.”
“If they want to bring investments into the country it is for sure necessary that they clarify the line within their own government. But it is not up to me to make the judgement about that. It is the prime minister who must bring his government and his coalition together.
By the way the fact that a left wing party like SYRIZA joins a government with Mr. Kammenos, is also a surprising thing to be very prudent about. I could even find other words. Mr. Kammenos is perhaps not the logical partner of a left wing party like SYRIZA. But OK. We have to live with the government.”