“Everybody Knows We Are Serious”
An interview with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.
L.W.: But your GDP has shrunk 20 percent in the past five years. Isn't it slated to go down another 7 percent this year? How do you break this cycle?
A.S.: You start increasing the GDP through liquidity methods, through structural funds, through privatization, and through investments.
L.W.: Foreign direct investment?
A.S.: It is very important. There are many people abroad who want to help, who want to invest. In the past, they used to come here, and they found a negative environment. Today, instead of red tape, we will give them the red-carpet treatment. We want them to realize that this is a land of opportunity. It always has been so, but we never allowed foreign investment to come into this country. … We made it so difficult for them. They got sick and tired of it.
L.W.: Was that partly to protect Greece's own businessmen?
A.S.: It was a culture that business is something bad—it was a leftist-oriented psychology. We have to break this. We are pro-business. We want entrepreneurs to come to Greece, see the opportunities, and invest. We have to capitalize on tourism and the maritime industry. The previous governments abolished the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Maritime Affairs. It is as if Saudi Arabia abolished the Ministry of Oil.
L.W.: Do you think the Greek people will rally behind you?
A.S.: I think that people are ready to take that leap forward with us, yes.
L.W.: Are you ready to do it even if it is not politically popular—even if you get defeated?
A.S.: Absolutely. It's not me. It's not my party. It's not my friends. It's my country, and I don't play with my country. I won't do that.
L.W.: Are you saying you can't just have austerity alone?
L.W.: Does the troika understand that?
A.S.: I think the troika and everybody else understands it after seeing that Greece has been in recession for six consecutive years.
L.W.: Do you think they are willing to go easier on your country?
A.S.: Expectations were that we were doomed. It would be a matter for the Europeans to solve as to whether to accept us or not, with very high chances of us being kicked out of the eurozone. I cannot allow a third party to decide on my country's future. I have to make sure that we are changing things so this alternative for the Europeans is not there. Some of them would love to have a Greek exit. I do not want Greece to become the negative paradigm for the others—i.e., "make sure you follow exactly what we tell you, otherwise you will be like Greece."
We have to make sure we do not leave the eurozone and that we are safely within Europe. Many leaders abroad today realize this is the best not only for Greece but also for Europe. The consequences are unknown as to what would happen in Europe were Greece to leave. What would be the reaction of the markets? They would hit the next nation.
L.W.: They would hit Spain?
A.S.: They'd hit some country for sure. Nobody knows the consequences. But I cannot rest assured that since the others know this, maybe they will not kick us out. I have to make sure this does not happen. You don't play with death, and this would be deadly for Greece.
Lally Weymouth is a senior associate editor of the Washington Post.