PARIS – French President Francois Hollande, the Socialist who rode an anti-austerity platform to victory and refused to talk with Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) leader Alexis Tsipras, has warmly welcomed PASOK Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos – who imposed harsh austerity measures on Greeks.
Tsipras, whose party finished a strong second in the stalemated May 6 elections that didn’t produce a government, joked that the French President had already turned his back on his principles and called him “Hollandreou,” a reference to former PASOK leader and previous Greek Premier, George Papandreou, President of the Socialist International, who was forced to resign six months ago after incessant protests, strike and riots against pay cuts, tax hikes, and slashed pensions demanded by international lenders in return for $325 billion in two bailouts.
Hollande met with Venizelos in Paris for a 40-minute discussion and photo opportunity. Venizelos said he was not there as a politician but representative of the Greek people, although his party received only 13.2 percent of the vote in the elections, while 68 percent of Greeks voted for anti-austerity parties that included Leftists, Communists, Rightists and Nazis. Hollande said the President of France can only meet with state leaders, which Venizelos is not, but didn’t explain the contradiction.
Hollande did not say why he met with someone who imposed austerity measures, the conditions the new French President opposed when he was campaigning. Despite Venizelos’ position he was not there as a political leader, Hollande said he only met him because he was in the same political persuasion. The meeting was held ahead of a May 23 European Union in Brussels, with Venizelos briefing the new French President on the crisis that PASOK and its rival New Democracy Conservatives created with generations of hiring hundreds of thousands of needless workers in return for votes.
Since winning, Hollande has been lukewarm over his anti-austerity promises and earlier had declined to meet with Tsipras, who said he wants Greece to renegotiate or renege on the bailout terms with the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB.) Venizelos said that could lead to the Troika cutting off the money pipeline and forcing Greece out of the Eurozone of the 17 countries using the euro as a currency, back to the drachma, and complete collapse and utter chaos.
With Greece facing new elections on June 17, polls show New Democracy is virtually tied with SYRIZA, while PASOK is slipping toward irrelevance, although with perhaps enough support to form another coalition with the Conservatives. The parties shared power in an uneasy hybrid government before the inconsequential May 6 polls.
Tsipras, in Berlin as part of an EU tour where he’s trying to convince European leaders he wants Greece to stay in the Eurozone, said, “A vote for the left does not mean that we would leave the euro. Quite the opposite, we would keep the euro.” He added: “I do not think that a rejection of the austerity program means that the country would have to leave the Eurozone,” Tsipras said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the champion of austerity and has refused to back down on her insistence for more of it for Greeks, while the Troika has warned the next government must adhere to reforms and make another $15 billion in cuts or lose its loans. Venizelos said Greek society can’t withstand more of the kind of austerity measures he imposed as Finance Minister, when he doubled income and property taxes and taxed the poor. “It is understood that we cannot accept further cutbacks on incomes, salaries and pensions,” Venizelos said – the same mantra being used by Tsipras and now seized upon by PASOK and New Democracy after their precipitous slide in the first elections.
Venizelos said he, too, now wants to renegotiate the terms of the bailouts that he signed, the same stance as Tsipras, who has been blistered for that position. Hollande and Venizelos discussed the idea of delaying some measures for three years – nearly identical to what Tsipras recommended.
Analysts said the meeting signified Hollande’s support not just for Greek Socialists, but their platform, which is antithetical to his anti-austerity promises. “We have to explain without arrogance to our Greek friends that if they ewant to remain in the euro – and I believe that’s what the majority wants, they can not support political parties which will make them abandon it,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, although Venizelos’ position to try to renegotiate the terms could have that effect as well.
(Sources: ProtoThema, Athens News Agency)