ATHENS – After two years of pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions, a reduced minimum wage and the slated firing of 150,000 public workers imposed during his watch as Finance Minister, new PASOK Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos has now admitted that it could all fail and Greece could still be pushed out of the Eurozone of countries using the euro as a currency. Greece administered the austerity measures on orders of the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) in return for two bailouts of $325 billion to prop up an economy killed by generations of politicians packing public payrolls with hundreds of thousands of needless workers in return for votes.
And with the May 6 elections looming to elect a new leader, Venizelos again pushed for support for his party and a pro-European agenda. PASOK is uneasily sharing power with its bitter rival New Democracy Conservatives but both parties have seen their popularity plummet because of their support for austerity. Venizelos had warned Greeks against reacting with anger to punish the ruling parties, a stance he said could bring in anti-bailout parties.
In an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian, Venizelos said that despite all the austerity he helped impose to keep Greece in the Eurozone, that the country could still be forced out regardless of the elections outcome. He has promised no more taxes if elected, and New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras is trying to backtrack on his support for austerity, but the Troika has said that $15 billion in new cuts is needed and that any attempts to renege on reforms would result in the money pipeline being shut off. Samaras has largely been quiet in recent days while Venizelos has been giving interviews. Both have stayed away from public campaigning as many mainstream politicians are fearful of being harangued or assaulted, although Venizelos has planned a May 4 rally in Syntagma Square, the heart of protests and where a pensioner committed suicide two months ago after writing he was driven to it by what austerity had done to his life.
“There are certain misconceptions that worry me: for instance, the misconception that whatever happens we are not going to leave the euro,” Venizelos told the UK newspaper. He left as Finance Minister after also imposing 74 percent losses on investors, including Greece’s banks which are now teetering on failure.
“Europe and the Eurozone have no reason, rationally, to push Greece out of the euro. But this is a system in which many parties, many countries, many governments, many electorates participate and we could have events which, rationally, are not controllable,” he was cited as saying. Other Eurozone countries could still squeeze Greece out, he cautioned.
He said the election is Greece’s “most critical,” with polls showing a rise in support for anti-bailout parties. He again warned against the rise of far-right parties, especially the neo-Nazi, Fascist Golden Dawn.
“It’s absurd and a pity that people who are despairing and bitter, who are unemployed and have lost their businesses, should be persuaded by such policies,” he said, although he was largely responsible for most of them.
“The battle will be decided in the last few days,” he said in his first major interview with a foreign newspaper since assuming the helm of PASOK in March. “The Greek people will have to give a clear answer as to whether it wants (to follow) a pro-European course, which is safe and responsible, or something else,” but acknowledged that either way Greece may not stay in the Eurozone. That would mean returning to the ancient drachma and what many analysts predict is economic catastrophe that would dwarf Greece’s current crisis and that two years of austerity would have been in vain.
He said if Greeks reject the ruling parties who have taken turns ruining Greece’s economy for nearly 40 years, that Greece would not only be turning its back on the “progressive reforms” to modernize its moribund economy, it would throw the entire Eurozone into turmoil. He told The Guardian that he is worried because while surveys show that more than 75% of Greeks remain ardent supporters of the euro despite austerity that has impoverished many, a lot of Greeks are laboring under what he called “certain misconceptions,” including that, “Whatever happens we are not going to leave the euro.”
The austerity measures have worsened a five-year-long deep recession and created 21.8 percent unemployment and the closing of more than 111,000 businesses with projections that life will only get worse for many Greeks, no matter who wins the election. Surveys show 40 percent of PASOK supporters, including the hard-hit labor unions that were traditional backers of the party, are undecided.
“There are over a million without work … no family does not have someone who is unemployed,” said Venizelos, conceding that he, too, had relatives “with many qualifications” who could not find work, a claim many Greeks find incredible in a country where political connections are all that is needed to get a job. With PASOK and New Democracy hovering around 40 percent in combined support, there is a strong likelihood of another coalition, although Samaras has rejected it, and Venizelos said if New Democracy wins he would not agree to another power-sharing agreement if it meant his rival would be Prime Minister, setting up the prospect of a stalemate and another election.
(Sources: The Guardian, Kathimerini, Reuters)