ATHENS – Development Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis, who has stated he wants to take over the leadership of the PASOK Socialist party, which has been in shambles and sliding deep in the polls since the resignation of George Papandreou as Prime Minister more than two months ago, said when he was part of the Cabinet two years ago he did not read the loan agreement deal Greece signed with international lenders, that has caused dozens of strikes, protests and riots, and brought down the former government.
Chrysochoidis, who has been vociferous in his criticism of the man he served, made the embarrassing admittance during an interview on SKAI TV, surprising everyone. The Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank is loaning Greece $152 billion in rescue loans to stave off bankruptcy caused by generations of PASOK and its bitter rival conservatives in the New Democracy party packing public payrolls with hundreds of thousands of unnecessary hires in return for votes. The Troika demanded deep pay cuts, big tax hikes, slashed pensions and up to 150,000 layoffs in the country’s workforce of about 1 million people in return for the money.
The bailout has failed though, because of the Draconian terms that caused Greeks to slow or stop spending, and created 18.2 percent unemployment and the closing of more than 100,000 businesses, with “For Rent” signs popping up in vacant store windows almost everywhere. A coalition government led by former ECB Vice-President Lucas Papademos has been negotiating a second bailout of $169 billion for weeks with the Troika, which wants more austerity measures, but Greece is holding out until investors agree to take losses of as much as 70 percent. Chrysochoidis is one of the PASOK holdover ministers serving in the coalition, along with New Democracy and the far Right-Wing LAOS party.
Chrysochoidis said that he was too busy at the time with his duties as Citizens’ Protection Minister to read the text of the agreement, also known as the memorandum. “I did not read the memorandum, I had other obligations and responsibilities,” said the minister. “As Citizens’ Protection Minister, I had to tackle crime. I did not have time to study the memorandum.” But he signed it anyway.
He also said he agreed with a blistering speech in Berlin made by Costas Simitis, a former PASOK leader, and Prime Minister when Greece falsified its economic figures to get into the Eurozone a decade ago. Simitis said Papandreou rushed to judgment signing the deal and that the austerity measures which have Greece in a fifth consecutive year of recession have done irreparable damage to the economy which analysts said could take years to recover, unless Greece defaults on its loans, which would worsen the crisis.
“The negotiations were very horizontal and it was based on an optimistic and simplistic projection that things would develop in a certain way,” Chrysochoidis told SKAI. “But things do not develop the way you want them and the successive measures created a deeper recession because they reduced liquidity.” Chrysochoidis is one of many PASOK officials seeking to take over the party as polls show New Democracy has a more than 2-to-1 lead. New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras has demanded snap elections be held no later than April 8, a week before Easter.
Chrysochoidis tried to set himself apart from another PASOK contender, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who has imposed waves of tax hikes on Greeks, including the poor, but until a recent crackdown, was not chasing tax evaders. Chrysochoidis said the intra-party rivalry with Venizelos was not just a case of “We saved the country but made people bitter.” He didn’t say if he knew whether any other PASOK officials had read the memorandum before signing it, or if Members of Parliament had done so when the party controlled the body and Papandreou rammed the memo through with virtually no opposition in his party. MP’s who balked at supporting him or the memorandum were tossed out of the party.
Kathimerini reported that New Democracy spokesman Yiannis Michelakis said that Chrysochoidis’ admission that he did not study the text of the loan agreement, signed in May 2010, displayed “nerve, irresponsibility and dangerous views.” “Clearly, he was not the only case,” said Michelakis. Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) leader Alexis Tsipras launched a stinging attack on the EU-IMF loan agreement. “The memorandum has been a success,” he told his party’s MPs. “Its aim was to achieve an internal devaluation, to impoverish the Greek people, to reduce wages, to abolish labor rights and to destroy state social care,” he said.