French frontrunner ‘best solution’ for Greece, says Pasok leader Evangelos Venizelos, as rift grows over EU approach to austerity
The leader of Greece’s socialist party says the country is pinning its hopes on the election of François Hollande in Sunday’s French presidential election, with the socialist frontrunner being seen as the best guarantor of the growth policies the EU’s austerity-wracked southern periphery so desperately needs.
With the Greeks also going to the polls, the socialist Pasok party leader, Evangelos Venizelos, said in an interview with the Guardian: “We are very much hoping that he [Hollande] will win. He is by far the best solution.”
Support for the French socialist is the most glaring reflection yet of the growing rift in Europe over Berlin’s Calvinist approach to resolving a crisis that many believe could have been contained had austerity not been so remorselessly pursued when it first broke out in Athens.
“This is undoubtedly a war, the war of our generation,” said Venizelos, who was a teenager during Greece’s 1967-74 military regime. “Our generation after the dictatorship never had difficulties. They were 38 very happy and prosperous years.”
Vowing to end the relentless emphasis on austerity that EU powerhouse Germany has advocated in response to the continent’s debt woes, Hollande told a rally in Paris on Sunday: “the people of Europe are looking to us.” If elected, he promised to write to fellow eurozone governments with a call for a growth package that would focus on job creation and development.
Hollande, who last week pledged to help Greece “regain a level of development” if he beats President Nicolas Sarkozy, has promised to renegotiate the fiscal pact German chancellor Angela Merkel has made single currency nations sign up to. The treaty, the embodiment of restrictive monetary policies pursued by Germany, obliges EU member states to keep within stringent budget targets.
For countries like Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Italy and Spain the relentless focus on austerity has led to historic levels of unemployment and worsening poverty. Greeks – who look set to abandon mainstream parties in droves in Sunday’s elections, the first since the crisis erupted – have seen wages drop by an average of 25% over the past two years. Pensioners are forced to survive on as little as €500 a month.
Voters in Greece will elect a 300-strong parliament, from which a government should be formed.
Venizelos, whose Pasok party has participated in an emergency coalition government under technocrat prime minister Lucas Papademos since last November, said it was time the “one-dimensional” approach ended.
The focus had to be on growth and rules had to be relaxed if Athens was to get out of the “vicious cycle” it was now in.
“We need to be helped. I propose that [our] fiscal adjustment program be extended by a year … this somewhat softer adjustment, from two to three years, will help us a lot,” he said in the interview. “And of course we must also continue very intensely with structural changes, changes that will liberalise and improve the economy’s competitiveness.”
He said the decision to reduce the country’s privatisation programme from raising €50bn to €19bn over the next three years was “much more realistic.”
With polls showing no party winning a clear majority and mounting fears of political instability exacerbating Greece’s economic plight, Venizelos said it was vital that desperation was contained among a population that appears poised to vote for extremist fringe parties, including the far-right Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn).
“It is very important that we are able to inspire people under very difficult conditions, under conditions which normally provoke pessimism and despair,” Venizelos said.
Negotiations to shave the country’s debt by forcing the private sector to accept massive losses on Greek government bonds – the biggest bond exchange in history – were “the most important” since the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne which precipitated the massive exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey after the disastrous campaign of Greek forces into Asia Minor in 1922.
Germany, he added, like every other EU country had not “lost out financially” by giving rescue loans to Greece.
“They are getting a small, reasonable interest rate and Greece is serving the loans. The issue, more generally, is that the eurozone has to have a strategy and we believe the [political] balances in Europe have to change. Europe has to begin to think in other ways. Its approach is quite one-dimensional from the perspective of how it has handled the economic crisis.”