“I was a scapegoat but I never cared if I would be reelected” says George Papandreou, Greece’s former PM, in a tell-all interview to Greek Reporter’s Anastasios Papapostolou from New York City on the sidelines of the Clinton Global Initiative 2016.
For many people in Greece, George Papandreou is a persona non grata. He is considered responsible for putting the country between a rock and a hard place by signing a bailout agreement that ushered Greece in the “memoranda” period. He is the man identified by many as the “memoranda bringer” and destroyer of the Greek economy. However, to this day, all his successors followed the same policies of bailouts.
Papandreou won the October 6, 2009 election based on his progressive ideas mixed with the heavy name of his father, Andreas Papandreou the founder of PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Movement).
George Papandreou served as PASOK leader from February 2004 until March 2012, and President of the Socialist International since January 2006. His credentials were superb in a country where nepotism has often been the rule in politics.
However, George Papandreou did not live up to the popularity of his father and grandfather. His short term in the premiership (October 6, 2009-November 11, 2011) was marred by the onset of the economic crisis that literally destroyed the Greek economy and scarred Greek society. He ended up resigning from the party in 2014 and formed the Movement of Democratic Socialists that failed to get in parliament in the January 2015 elections.
Papandreou has been accused of not taking a harder stance in 2010, during the crucial days of talks with the European Union on the state of Greek economy. He could tell euro zone partners, his critics say, that he would declare bankruptcy, even as a bluff.
To his defense he said that when he took over, “there was a huge deficit, the Greek debt had doubled in five years and Greece had lost credibility. Playing the bluff? What if it had not worked. Would I have been a responsible prime minister if I had let the country go bankrupt?”
In that case, he said, he “wouldn’t be able to pay salaries, we’d close the schools, we’d close the army, we’d close the hospitals. We simply didn’t have the money. There would be a huge disruption.”
Instead, he told Greek Reporter, he chose for the country to go through a difficult process “getting money from our European partners. Most say the IMF. It wasn’t just the IMF, mostly it was European money.”
At the time, he said, no one had come forward to offer an alternative. All the governments after him followed the same road of bailouts. “Had everybody supported me then, as they did in Portugal, as they did in Ireland, as they did in Cyprus, we’d have been out of this crisis, or at least out of this bailout program.”
“Had we looked at the truth earlier, it would have been much easier to deal with than it is now. Had we looked at the truth, that we had a huge deficit, that we’d have to reform our state, we’d have to reform bureaucracy, we’d have to fight clientelism, fight corruption, reform our justice system, reform our education system, we would have been where we want to be but with much less pain.
Today, Papandreou wants to remain active in Greek politics. “I want to help,” he tells Greek Reporter. “Greece is a great country and if we Greeks work together, we can achieve great things.”
“We are responsible for our country… We cannot wait for a savior to come and save us… We cannot blame others for our woes.”