Vocal Europe: What were the necessary reforms and conditions that Greece’s partners were demanding and Greece was not complying with? There was little information on the issue.
Joseph Daul: The EU creditors were asking the Syriza government to commit and implement reforms in exchange for money. Syriza, however, wanted debt forgiveness and expected the EU to pour money into an inefficient Greek state and an unreformed economy without anything in exchange. Add to these circumstances a populist government with no governing experience or understanding of the real problem. The EU was ready all along to do what was necessary to ensure a better future for the Greek people. But EU solidarity had to be met with Greece’s responsibility.
There is a long list of reforms Greece needed and still needs to urgently implement. For example, reforming the pension system, the state administration, and opening up industries, such as the energy market, to external competition. What surprised me most was that Syriza opposed reforms that would have made Greece more competitive and favoured those that brought the country to the brink.
Vocal Europe: Many critics claimed that Europe bullied Greece in an effort to bring the Leftist government of Syriza down and reinstall an establishment party, like New Democracy. How much of this is this true and is this compatible with Greek or European democratic values?
Joseph Daul: We don’t bully countries in Europe. We sit at the negotiation table and talk. We come prepared to meetings and respect deadlines, especially when people’s wellbeing is involved. We have seen during the Greek negotiations an unprecedented level of incompetence. Syriza often missed official meetings, important deadlines, and mislead people with false promises.
The EPP’s priority was always to see Greece out of the crisis, but for this the government had to stick to implementing the necessary reforms. The EPP has always supported our Greek member party New Democracy (ND), as it can guarantee stability and comply with the EU rules Greece has signed up to.
Let’s not forget that before Syriza inflicted large-scale political instability from January 2014 on wards, Greece was expected to grow in real terms 2.9% this year.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his government succeeded in adopting and implementing reforms, putting the country on the right track. Syriza, however, not only opposed and undid many reforms put in place by ND, but also reversed the growth trend. Syriza simply expected that Europeans will keep on paying for an unsustainable economy. It was impossible for other Eurozone countries to justify in front of their citizens giving money to another Greek bailout without Syriza’s commitment to reforms.
Vocal Europe: The Greek Syriza-Anel coalition government often angered Greece’s partners with unacceptable comments like the one made by former Minister of Defense Panos Kamenos. He claimed that if Europe continues to “bully” Greece, then his government will flood the Schengen area with jihadists. How damaging where such comments to the efforts of the negotiation? Do comments such as these show the inexperience and lack of diplomatic skills of the Greek government?
Joseph Daul: Syriza’s behaviour during the first six months of the negotiations was unacceptable. It was difficult to negotiate with someone who did not understand the situation and was expecting a free ride without putting forward an alternative proposal.
Syriza’s recklessness did not influence the decision-making of the EPP Finance Ministers. The provocations of the Syriza government, though, destroyed the trust between the two sides. The Greek bailout was negotiated with the aim of stabilising the country, enabling economic growth and creating new prospects for the Greek citizens.
Syriza’s comments, however, played badly with the political class and citizens in other Member States, which made the decision to support Greece’s third package much more difficult politically. But in the end, Prime Minister Tsipras admitted Greece needs reforms and ended up accepting tougher bailout conditions than those for which they were criticising the previous governments.
Vocal Europe: What is the EPP’s role in the Greek-Troika negotiations and the party’s vision for Greece, the Eurozone and the future of EU? Are Europe and the EPP German-dominated, as many critics believe, or do its positions reflect a cross-nation vision for the future?
Joseph Daul: The EPP is represented in nine out of 19 Eurozone governments. Germany has taken over an important leadership role in the Greek crisis and is an important partner within the EPP family, but so are other countries, like Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Portugal, or Spain. We always take into consideration the views and concerns of all our member parties.
My role, as the President of the EPP, is to listen, analyse, and find a common ground between our members. Exactly this happened during the negotiations on Greece in the group of nine EPP Finance Ministers, Schelling, Stubb, Georgiades, Sester, Schaeuble, Noonan, Reirs, and Albuquerque, led by the Spanish Minister de Guindos, who were always meeting ahead of the Eurogroup to discuss and find a common position. Greece’s bailout was discussed not only at the Eurozone meetings but also during the EPP Summits held ahead of the European Council, with EPP heads of state and government as well as opposition leaders from the EU in attendance.
The EPP played a crucial role in these negotiations. We sent a strong message to the populist Syriza government in Greece that empty words will not put their country on the right path. EPP governments, like Ireland, Portugal, Cyprus, Spain, and the Baltic States also adopted fiscal consolidation measures at the beginning of the financial crisis. But all these countries have managed to come out of a difficult economic situation and create growth and employment by adopting and implementing reforms supported by their citizens.
They serve as the best example for Greece. Europe has always showed solidarity with the Greek people, but solidarity must go hand-in-hand with responsibility. It cannot be that while other EU countries pay, the Greek government overspends without any effort to balance the budget or to stabilise the situation.
Vocal Europe: According to many, austerity in Greece has failed and it worsened the country’s chances for economic recovery. What are the mistakes that could have been avoided both by the EU/Troika and the Greek leadership? Since austerity crippled the Greek economy and increases unemployment and social inequality, why isn’t there a growth stimulus package to assist the Greek economy? Is it only a question of trust towards Greece and what does the country need to do to gain it?
Joseph Daul: One fault we made with Greece was to allow successive Greek governments to replace structural reforms with fiscal measures that had the same fiscal influence. Greece without any doubt needed financial consolidation, but it also needed structural reforms such as strengthening revenue collection, making the public sector and the labour market more efficient.
But the additional cuts and tax increases, which replaced the reforms, did not increase the potential growth of the Greek economy. The government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was on the way to changing things and has even managed to achieve a budgetary surplus for Greece. But as Syriza came to power, nothing was done for the first six months.
Very often we hear claims that the EU programme to help Greece overcome the crisis has failed. It’s a wrong statement. Greece did not implement the programme it signed up to, so it couldn’t have failed without even being implemented. Another erroneous assumption is to believe that Greece would have been better off if it didn’t sign a deal with the EU.
The alternative to the EU’s help would have been complete chaos and bankruptcy. Therefore, any future Greek government will have to continue the work on what was agreed with the creditors this summer. Greece needs a stable government that will work hard to reform, to bring political stability and create a positive economic climate for a better future for its citizens.