Why Greece Isn’t Leaving Europe

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
Sept. 14 2012 4:01 PM

“Everybody Knows We Are Serious”

An interview with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

(Continued from Page 1)

L.W.: Why would they give you an additional extension when Greece has never met a target?

A.S.: I believe it is reassuring for them to see the numbers. Yesterday, we had the statistical evidence that in July and August, expenditures fell by 17.5 percent compared to this time last year. … We are taking steps that show that things have changed in Greece. We have decreased the salaries of everybody who partakes in politics, from the president to the prime minister to the MPs [members of Parliament]. We have cut expenditures that have to do with parliament. Everybody knows we are serious.

L.W.: People say that you are pro-reform now, but for two years, when you were in the opposition, you were opposed to the very reforms you advocate now. Did you make a mistake?

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A.S.: I have always believed that this idea of having a nation go through this very painful five or six years of continuous recession with high unemployment would be detrimental for the economy and the society. … Very serious mistakes were made by previous governments, and Greece was ready to be abandoned by its partners and to leave the eurozone, which would have created total catastrophe. When this was imminent, we came in and helped change the government and asked for quick elections so that we could finish the job.

L.W.: But outsiders criticize the lack of structural reforms in Greece—a lack of willingness to fire public employees, the unwillingness to open up these so-called closed trades where you prohibit competition.

A.S.: Most have been opened up by laws. We voted for them. This will not be a problem in the future. Most of it has been fully liberalized.

L.W.: Are you concerned about potential social disorder due to the enormous difficulties the Greek people are having to endure?

A.S.: There are going to be a lot of problems with social cohesion. We are already cutting down everything to the bone. Unless there is light at the end of the tunnel, then yes, I am very concerned. So we have to get light at the end of the tunnel. That's my primary policy. And hope cannot be there unless we get the next tranche quickly so we can have recovery.

We are a pivotal part of the European Union. Any destabilization of Greece would totally rock the boat. I wake up every morning and say, "Has anything happened to Syria today?" If something happens in Syria, thousands of people would be flowing into Greece. Illegal immigrants are already a very big problem for us. We are already taking big steps to disallow illegal immigrants from coming in. Imagine if that number is multiplied by 10.

L.W.: Many U.S. businessmen believe that Greece will exit or be exited from the eurozone. Are they wrong?

A.S.: They are absolutely wrong.

L.W.: Are you getting good signals from the Europeans? From German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for example?

A.S.: If you look at the signals a month ago and then look at them recently, they are very different.

L.W.: What changed?

A.S.: They saw what we are doing and that we are determined.

L.W.: Given the depth of your financial difficulties, it is hard to understand why no government has touched the public sector.

A.S.: That is by the constitution.

L.W.: Doesn't it make it very difficult to run a government when you inherit a large, untouchable public sector, much of which is uninterested in pursuing reform?

A.S.: During the socialist period, the government became too big. That created a crowding-out effect in the private economy, and it gave everybody the need to pay more taxes in order to finance this big government. We are against big government. We want a smaller and more efficient government.

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