The speech of Alexis Tsipras at the Economist Conference

Tsiprandreou

The Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, delivered a very interesting speech at the Annual Conference event of the Economist in Athens. You can find the original speech, in Greek, here. You can find the translated version from the Office of the Prime Minister, here. Or you can read my own translation right below.

 

 

“A vision for a Europe that is changing

100 days of governance: Achievements and prospects for Greece”

Dear friends,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I thank the organizers of the conference for their gracious invitation. It is, indeed, the fourth time that I speak from this podium, the first time, however, that I do it as a Prime Minister.

It is my pleasure to take part in this annual economic institution, in this economic forum that each year gives the opportunity for various political and economic conceptions that define the lines of public debate, both worldwide and in a European level, to be heard and be discussed.

We are talking about the political and economic conceptions that do not stem from exercises in laboratory conditions of economists, but are defined by the statutory social contradictions that are inherent in all modern Western societies. In reality, these political and economic conceptions are continuous to ideological assumptions that are by definition incompatible.

As such, it is the obligation of the political leadership and the coordinated Polity to solve this paradox each time in the most effective way possible. Because, ultimately, it is politics that is going to define in each moment what is just and what is unjust, what is legitimate and what is unfair, what is possible and what is impossible. For five years, in Greece, the policy of the old status-quo parties failed miserably to take the country out of the crisis. It did not manage to combine and synthesize the different social expectations of the Greek society and its segments, in order to create a robust idea for social justice and define a sustainable set of coordinates for the future prospects of the country. Instead, it chose to side with the most extreme and discriminatory, the most extreme and biased forces in a global and European level, and to implement a very tough austerity policy, against the vast majority of the Greek society.

An idea dominated within this political elite – with the support, of course, of the economic powerful – that the crisis in Greece was caused by the social rights of the workers and pensioners, that the crisis in Greece was caused by the oversized public sector, by the entanglements to protective policies.

And on this skewed basis, an entire mechanism of restructuring the Greek economy and society was created, which in the 4-5 previous years, was named Memorandum.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Memorandum was not merely an economic mistake, a bad program, an oversight. The Memorandum was the conscious choice to load the burden of the economic crisis that was caused by the imbalances of the [global] financial system and worsened by the inherent pathologies of the Greek state and Greek economy, load the burden, these burdens, on the backs of wage labor, on the backs of pensioners, [on the backs of] self-employed middle class and small entrepreneurs. In reality, the Memorandum was nothing more than the attempt for the country to overcome the crisis and the impasse through an unprecedented purging of rights, through an unprecedented purging of firms that would put the basis for a new accumulation of capital with much worst terms for the social majority. Naturally, it was a given and expected that this policy, sooner or later, would lead to a long-term recession that was, nevertheless, desired in principle by the initiators of the Memorandum.

They knew very well what they were doing, and they nevertheless they did it. This is, if you want, the formula of their absolute cynicism. Hence, in the years of the Memorandum, social inequalities in Greece soared – Greece is among the top in the indicators for social inequality in Europe – unemployment was tripled, wages sunk, pensions suffered dramatic cuts, while the welfare state nearly collapsed.

The only ones that did not suffer any losses in these five years of tragedy for the Greek society and economy were the rich Greeks. Those that took their money abroad swiftly, those that used to tax evade also during the years of growth – and, unfortunately, continue to tax evade until today.

According to research conducted by Credit Suisse, the 10% of the richest Greeks controls at this time that we are speaking, the 56% of the national wealth.

This political and economic storm that our country has faced, has left one thing steadfast at its place: the clientelistic and corrupt state that supported the political and economic elite of this country. Or rather, in order to be precise, it didn’t just leave it unshakable in this position, but also led it to even worse practices.

None of the supposed reforms of the Memorandum did anything to improve the tax collecting mechanism that collapsed despite the eagerness of some enlightened and rightly frightened employees. None of the supposed reforms did counter the notorious triangle of corruption that was erected in the country, for many years now and even before the crisis, between the political elite, the media moguls and the Banks. None of the reforms improved the efficiency of the state mechanism that has learned to operate in such a way so that selfish interests are served, but not for the common good.

It was exactly this situation, namely the weakness to justify this extreme policy, the inability to prepare a convincing reason that would transform self-interest of the elites in the general good of the entire society, that brought you to me, in front of you, for the fourth time to speak at the Economist Conference, and talk to you in the capacity of the Prime Minister and not that of the leader of the Opposition.

And you know why? Because you can fool many people for a short amount of time, and few for a long period of time. But you cannot, however, full everyone forever.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The elections of the 25th of January provided a government – which as we said from the outset, had as a goal social salvation and economic recovery – a clear mandate: the change of the Memorandum policy that destroyed the Greek society and brought it to the brink of despair.

The new government carries a completely different view of how to organize the Greek economy and society. A completely new perception for the conditions that need to run together, in order to be led towards the path of sustainable growth that will reduce and not increase inequalities. Because if growth is simply to reproduce the existing state of affairs, leaving intact the social gap or even exacerbating the social divisions, then something goes very wrong in the “kingdom of Europe.”

As such, this mandate, a mandate to change things in the country, is the mandate that we are implementing each and every of our first hundred days [in power] and this is the new perception that we are bringing at the epicenter of public dialogue in an aging Europe.

We are legislating and negotiating in the name o a large social majority that trusts us, but at the same time, on the name of the great values and visions, on the name of social justice, of growth and of promoting equality.

Because equality is one of the cornerstones of a united Europe that we should not allow to become eroded by all those who insist to speak on the name of liberty, forgetting the requirement that makes the liberty of all possible: and what is this requirement other than equality?

We legislate and negotiate, as such, having as compass the interests and expectations of this social majority: of the layers of employees and middle class that were crushed in four years of a Memorandum invasion. And our goal is to build, again, a version of social justice that will transform the Greek and European society from the sum of individual people to a real community.

Our goal is to give back to politics its original meaning, so as to be effective in terms of the final goal that we all share: a sustainable version of the social interest that will not feed tensions and that will unchain the potential of people with the prospect of prosperity. We legislate and negotiate, however, within an environment of unprecedentedly unfavorable conditions, in a historically unfavorable economic environment. We are proceeding, I would say, in a territory with land-mines that were diligently prepared by the outgoing government and the supporters of the Memorandum.

I know that it is customary for those that enter office in this country to say that they have received burned earth. But this, in our case, is not a redundancy but moderation.

We did not simply and only receive burned earth [by the previous government]. We did not simply and only receive a country with complete inability to function. We received a country that the previous government had confirmed had the inability to pay wages and pensions a month after the elections – that is in February of 2015. In difficult conditions, we managed to keep the country upright. We managed to have the smooth functioning of the state fully guarantee and the capability to fully meet the obligations of the state, while at the same time giving the fight of a hard negotiation with our partners. And not only that, but despite the conditions of financial pressure, and even though the majority of the mass media reproduces daily scaremongering scenarios of a default every other day, the trust of the citizens did not decrease, but increased, and this is why we recorded an important increase in the revenues of the public coffers.

In the nearly four months of this government, the primary surplus reached 2.164 million euros, over 1.046 million euros for the same period in 2014, and despite the predictions for a primary surplus of merely 287 million euros for the first quarter of 2015. Only in April, we increased the net revenues of the ordinary budget by 15.3% against the monthly target.

And so, not only did we avoid the crash that was premeditated by the previous government last February, but we also responded without any problems in repaying all internal and external liabilities of the country, despite the fact that the last loan installment was disbursed in August of 2014. And I want to assure you that there is no danger for the wages and pensions.

Here, however, lies an major ethical, I would say, issue. The agreement must close, there is no doubt about that. And the requirement for it to close is that it is honest and mutually beneficial. But it cannot be that some people have in their mind the idea that, while time goes by, the stamina of the Greek government will be tested and its red lines will fade. Or, if some people already have this in their mind, they should forget it, since this choice will bring the exact opposite results.

We have not received the installment of 7,2 billion euros from our lenders since August of 2014, based on the valid lending program. Between this amount also lies the 1,9 billion euros from the profits of the central banks from the Greek bonds. And the 1,2 billion euros in bonds that were paid by money of the Greek people, by the Greek budget, and were transferred from the HFSF to the ESM. At the same period, however, that we are negotiating and claiming the 7,2 billions, and while we are lacking the money that we are owed, we have repaid the institutions themselves installments that each 17,5 billion euros.

I will not judge anyone that thinks this is legal. She will claim that in such cases, the law is the right of the lender. Whoever thinks that this is ethical, however, is definitely biased.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Many are those who criticize the new government. Many are those who say that, despite the short period [of its tenure], we have forgotten our pre-electoral pledges, [that] we have withdrawn the Thessaloniki program. Instead of answering, I simply want to summarize what our government has done in the first hundred days, so that the facts can speak for themselves. Specifically:

In the first hundred days, the government

** Has made the first step in halting the humanitarian crisis with the first bill that passed in the new Parliament: The program is being implemented by constantly expanding on food, housing, and electricity, and has already relieved thousands of families that had immediate need.

** Has taken immediate measures for restarting the economy and restoring tax justice: The hundred installments [scheme] for the repayment of tax and social security obligations of citizens is already underway, and has enabled hundreds of thousands of firms to settle their debts through tax and social security clearance, while it has given the possibility to thousands of households to escape from the asphyxiating stranglehold of over-debt. At the same time, with this measure, the public coffers are receiving necessary injections of liquidity.

** As of May 11th, that is within twenty four days [of implementation], there were about 380.000 debtors who had requested adjustment [for their debts] by the tax authorities of the country. The total amount of debts that was adjusted amounts to 2,8 billion euros. At the same time, as of 12th of May, about 144.000 insured people had adjusted their debts towards the insurance funds, with a total amount of adjusted debts amounting to about 3,4 billion euros. Indeed, it is worth it to compare the amounts that have been adjusted with the law that we passed in the Parliament, that is the participation of taxpayers and insured people with the respective amounts and the limited participation of citizens in the adjustments of the previous government, in order to distinguish a true breath [of air] from a hidden trap.

Within the first 100 days, the Government voted a provision and has issued a Ministerial decision to combat triangular transactions that puts an end to one of the most prevalent techniques of tax evasion.

** Furthermore, the first law for the democratization of the public administration was voted, through which, among other things, some of the most blatant injustices of the Memoranda era are being restored, such as the firing of the cleaners from the Ministry of Finance, [the firing] of school guards, and other public servants.

** The program to recover employment [and] by the money that will be released through the initiative announced by President Juncker for the disbursement of funds totaling 2 billion euros, within 2015, has started and continues. We have, of course, difficulties in this area, since the programs that were designed by the previous government were in the wrong direction and it is impossible for them to be revoked today. But even so, we will manage to transform them so that they can be properly oriented, together with what we have already designed for the second half of 2015.

** Within the first 100 days, the bill for reopening [the public broadcaster] ERT was also voted, which comprises of a symbolic milestone. We have created the conditions for a new public radio and television broadcaster, free of partisanship, political favors, and the wasting of the past. A public broadcaster of information that will reflect the new public ethos and the democratic political culture of the new government.

** Within the first 100 days, we proceeded with the attribution of what was owed by the television stations that were pending for many years for reasons unclear, or possibly quite clear, while the draft bill for their licensing is in its final stage.

** Within the first 100 days, we began a consultation with social partners and the International Labour Organization (ILO), so that, soon, in the next few months to propose a bill for the restoration of the European acquis in labor relations, the restoration of collective bargaining, [and] the gradual reconstitution of the minimum wage at 751 euros. And it is an extremely happy coincidence that after the meeting of the Minister of Labour with the Director General of ILO, the organization issued a statement that welcomes the efforts of the Greek government and the social partners for the promotion of collective bargaining agreements and the improvement of the labour market in Greece.

** Within these 100 days, the work of the Investigative Committee for the Memoranda also began.

** For the first time, the national request of the German reparations and the occupation loan was formally posed in the highest possible level.

** For the first time, people who were suspected of committing tax evation from the infamous Lagarde List were called to pay and clear their remaining tax obligations, while the screening continues for other cases as well.

** While in the 100 first days, specific working groups examine other sinful procurement deals of the past, such as the abusive out-of-court settlement of the Greek state with the company Siemens.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

These are just few of the first examples of the titanic effort we have began for the final rupture with the vicious past and, at the same time, the redistribution of resources and power from the corrupt and tax-evading economic oligarchy [back] to the large social majority that trusts us and is looking forward to our effort. And I want to tell you that

First and foremost, we are, still, in the beginning.

Secondly, that we have done all those things, while I have to admit, I have spent most of my personal time on the negotiation. I hope that this does not happen in most Ministries, but a Government must first and foremost solve this knot, you can understand that it has fewer opportunities to produce work.

Nevertheless, we have done a lot and we are still in the beginning, and we could have done even more. We are in the beginning, we are proceeding, and we do not forget. We are moving forward abandoning to the dust of the past the powers of yesterday, the powers of corruption, but at the same time, we are trying to leave to the dust of the past the great inequalities, poverty, dependence, misery, which have multiplied over the years in our country.

Allow me at this point, in closing, to focus on the issue of the negotiation. As I already told you, we are negotiating hard these past three months. We are negotiating for our people, we are negotiating for our country, but we are also negotiating for Europe. Because the result of this negotiation will mark the trajectory of Europe, overall for the future. Whether this strategy of fiscal discipline, of punishment [will continue], or new roads of growth will open and [so will] the return of Democracy in Europe.

In the first days of the negotiation, we faced the momentum of the Memorandum. We found ourselves in front of a request of the completion of the fifth assessment and the implementation of the commitments of the former government with the infamous Hardouvelis e-mail. We demanded from our partners, however, the dual respect to the rules of Europe, and to the principle of popular sovereignty, which comprises the cornerstone of democratic organization of the European Union.

We sought and achieved, through the Eurogroup decision of the 20th of February, the displacement of our lenders, in the official texts, from the Memorandum and the fifth assessment to searching for common ground based on our own proposals. We respect this decision in the framework of our search. But in order to have a mutually beneficial solution-agreement – and not an agreement of repeated impasses – all relevant parties should remember and respect this decision. The continuous demand for equivalent measures of a Memorandum logic, such as the continuous complaint for the obvious rescission from what was agreed with the former government, does not help the ongoing negotiation process.

We, the Greek government, continue to negotiate for the achievement of a fair, economically and socially sustainable agreement with our partners. For an agreement that will put an end to austerity, which will restore liquidity in the real economy, and will open the prospects of growth for the country.

This presupposed the following 4 points:

** Low primary surpluses, primarily for this year and 2016, so that we can split the reproductive mechanism of austerity and regain a necessary fiscal space.

** Not to have commitments, obligations for new cuts. No new cut in wages and pensions, with measures that will intensify the social inequality and will bring the economy back at the spiral of recession.

** Restructuring of the public debt, so as to put an end to the vicious circle of the last five years, where the country is forced to continuously take new loans in order to repay the previous ones.

** A powerful program of investments, coordinated financing of investments, especially in infrastructure and new technologies.

At this stage, it seems that common ground has been found with the institutions in a series of issues, and this makes us hopeful that we are really close to an agreement. We have found common ground in issues such as the fiscal targets, the marginal changes in the VAT tax taht will have to function in a redistributive manner in favor of the lower social layers, but also in structural changes for the empowerment of the tax-collecting mechanism. And in a number of other issues. At the same time, of course, some issues remain open: Some people within the institutions insist in proposals for changes in the institutional framework that defines the operation of the already deregulated labour market. These changes cannot be accepted.

The paradox [or oxymoron] is that the same powers, at the same time, are raising the issue of the sustainability of the insurance system, insisting on the Memoranda prerequisites of cutbacks. Perhaps forgetting one of the most basic causes of our insurance system today: it is the infamous PSI, the cut, that is, of the insurance funds, with their own choices. But, of course, the massive unemployment [as well], as goes with the crisis of the recent years.

In the next days, however, we must work hard in order to build the necessary perception in terms of the actual sizes of the insurance system, and ensure that any proposals and estimates will not be based on an erroneous view of the economic situation of the insurance funds. In any case, I want from this podium here to assure the Greek people that there is no possibility or probability that this government will back down on the issue of wages and pensions. The wage earners and pensioners have suffered enough. It is now time for the redistribution, the fair sharing of burdens. Now is the time for those that did not pay until today, to pay.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We are negotiating with persistence and determination for one and single agreement, with uniform prerequisites, which will ensure the growth and exit of Greece to the markets in a very short while. Because this is what we are seeking. This is the plan that we are discussing. We have nothing to hide from the Greek people. We are honest. We are not bluffing, [and] we have specific targets. This is the plan we are discussing.

Anything else will be a repetition of deadlocks and deliberate mistakes that some of the institutions have already, anyways, admitted in the past – I remind you of the discussion around the multipliers – in the framework, back then, of an attempt to decrease social reactions. But this public admittance, in order to be credible, it has to be reflected in practice and not only in words.

The negotiating plan of our government, I want to admit, is neither radical, nor bold, not even aggressive. The negotiating plan of our government is simply realistic and sustainable. We call on the other side, after five consecutive years of unrealistic objectives and continuous failures, to finally accede to realism.

Finally, we call in rallying [with us], all of you, especially the large social majority that trusts us, and for whom the interests and expectations we keep fighting on a daily basis. All of us together, we can defend not only the national lines of the negotiation, but also build a new day for a just society, as well as a rectified and growing economy. Because our country has inexhaustible productive possibilities, which we ought to utilize in order to get out of the crisis with dignity and with head held high.

Thank you.

 

Photo source: Komotinipress

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