Europe should learn from Greece in the fight against COVID-19, says former PM Papandreou

A pedestrian wearing a mask passes an advertisment at a bus stop that reads "Stay Home, Hellenic Republic-Health Ministry" in Athens, Wednesday, March 18, 2020
A pedestrian wearing a mask passes an advertisment at a bus stop that reads "Stay Home, Hellenic Republic-Health Ministry" in Athens, Wednesday, March 18, 2020 Copyright Thanassis Stavrakis, Associated Press
By Euronews
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George Papandreou said Greece is using the lessons of the financial crisis to deal with the pandemic.


Ten years ago, Greece was bailed out after a devastating global financial crisis brought the country to its knees.

A decade of austerity has made the country's economy fragile and battered its healthcare system. With an ageing population and an economy heavily reliant on tourism, the state was very wary of the possible consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Greece has so far managed to weather this crisis. The country imposed lockdown early and citizens largely respected restrictions.

As a result, former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou told Euronews, Greece has emerged as an example to others.

"Having gone through another crisis ten years ago, Greek people realised that sacrifices early on will give us better results later on. And we created a consensus, a wider consensus, and people feel that by working together in solidarity we can deal with this."

Lessons for Europe?

Papandreou believes consensus is key to this.

"I would appeal to leaders to show this unity that will develop trust. And if trust is developed amongst our citizens then that will be one of the basic tools to be able to recover. Trust, cooperation is crucial in this crisis as it was 10 years ago, but even more so today," Papandreou said.

Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, however, is not holding his nation up as the example his former leader says it has become.

"Greece never recovered from the financial crisis," he maintains.

"We are still one quarter of GDP below where we were ten years ago. We had a major success in keeping the death toll low but I very much fear that Greece will have the largest number of people who go hungry as a result of the economic dimension of this pandemic."

European leaders who are meeting via videoconference for the fourth time this Thursday paint a similar picture to those who were trying to save Greece in 2010. But Papandreou, who was prime minister when Greece requested its bailout, said that, this time, the EU needs to act faster.

"We need to act collectively and quickly. Ten years ago we were slow, we did too little too late, that cost us a lot, it caused a lot of pain and we still feel that pain today".

Papandreou said that pointing the finger at Greece back then - just as blaming some nations more than others for the current crisis - is unhelpful in a time of crisis.

"We need to get away from the blaming and shaming, at that time it was easy to say Greece is a problem, actually it was a much wider systemic problem around the world of the financial system," he said.

"As we are moving towards economic recovery measures we cannot talk about one country doing better, one doing less, and so on. This is an emergency, the quicker we make strong decisions the quicker we will be able to see recovery."

European leaders acted accordingly - if a little late - in 2010, according to Papandreou, but they made a crucial mistake.

"The measures we took helped the financial system, it helped save the Eurozone (...) but the burden that was on the weaker parts of society (...). This cannot be repeated: We need a robust system with different conditionalities to make sure we have strong health systems, strong educational systems, less inequality," he told Euronews.

The Greek "example" of containing COVID-19

Greece closed down its economy early on, imposing lockdown on March 23 when its death toll stood at 17. Only 121 people have so far lost their lives to COVID-19 in Greece and the country has kept the infection rate very low.


Greek officials say the decade of austerity the country endured taught them invaluable lessons and forced the state to rethink how it confronts crises.

And Papandreou says it prepared citizens to weather a storm.

"I am proud of the Greek people that have had this self-discipline and solidarity and I think it's a very important message, a message for all of Europe," he said.

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