Cabinet Room, Parliament, 3 November 2011
Speech by the Prime Minister in the Cabinet Meeting
"I have delayed somewhat because I wanted to listen to what the opposition would say. I will refer to what they said, though I think that probably our decisions have proved to be justified. The opposition has taken a major decision to support the package.
First of all, dear Colleagues, every time we meet we note how dramatic things are, and that is true for today’s meeting too.
Let us look at what is at stake here.
I heard that yesterday our partners expressed surprise. I do not understand why they were surprised- I simply do not understand why there was any surprise at all. I was surprised that there was any surprise.
At one point in time, I and many others had said that what was at stake was our participation in the euro. This was not an issue raised by us but is up for discussion due to circumstances. Those who do not understand this call us ‘blackmailers’ and say that we are raising dilemmas that do not exist.
Yesterday’s events are simply a confirmation of what we were saying and nothing more. What is really at stake here? At the moment, it is the decision taken on the 26th October, and all the decisions taken recently, due to the enormous deficit problem and our sovereign debt in 2009.
The only way for us to stay in the euro, through negotiations of course, both internally and externally, is to faithfully implement the specific decisions. We took decisions the day before yesterday that are beneficial for the country. I will refer to these also.
In my reference to a referendum recently which unleashed a public debate internationally, there was another beneficial factor: we saw some indication, a foretaste of what it means to have saved the country and what it would have meant if we had not saved the country. This was a foretaste simply. We should fully understand the situation; every Greek citizen should understand that we are speaking in all sincerity. We may not have been as bombastic perhaps as some like us to be, but we were sincere.
We also saw the international reactions to our decisions, within Greece and on the world markets.
How are we to deal with the issue of faithfully implementing the decisions of the 26th October? I think that we are all concerned about the difficulties but the incidents of the 28th October in Greece was the culmination that made us look ridiculous in the Eurozone and internationally, giving the impression of a total lack of seriousness and understanding, instigated by groups acting to the detriment of our national interests– even though they were holding the national flag.
Our partners have expressed their bewilderment at the reactions of these people in our country after difficult but beneficial negotiations for Greece.
I am not referring to small groups which may ultimately exist in any country and who might have extreme views and act more or less irresponsibly, but I am referring to political parties. With all the political parties reacting and denouncing the Government in no uncertain terms! I have stressed so many times that we need the broadest possible support.
We have felt the constant pressure of public opinion in trying to do things that have never been done in this country and to implement policies which are beneficial, even though there may be a difference of opinion on the details – still they are beneficial in their general thrust.
As to the referendum- first of all I consider that a referendum is the decisive and categorical answer to all those scenarios both inside and outside of Greece which talk of abnormality or of exiting the euro. I must make it clear to all that I have every faith in the wisdom and maturity of the Greek people, much more so than in the present political system.
I am not condemning the political system in general. What we know is an established political system. Counter to this are the citizens, without any romantic allusions. I believe firmly in Democracy and this will never change as a principle that I hold, and I believe is firmly rooted in our political movement, with deep political and cultural roots in our country.
Despite the prevailing problems of certain systems, as soon as we mentioned the referendum, it was the first time for many years that citizens felt that we were taking them into account and enabling their voice to be heard and that we trust their judgement. We believe in people’s ability to judge correctly with the correct information to hand of course.
As for our partners, they recognise our right to a referendum. Of course, as I said in the Cabinet meeting they would like everything to be calm, simple and without referenda.
As to the subject of the referendum, this was not for them to set. This is non-negotiable for us. They explained that they would then interpret the result.
Of course we will never, as Vangelis Venizelos said earlier have made our participation in the euro a subject of the referendum. Our participation in the euro goes without saying. If we do not however meet up to our obligations, then the issue of the euro is of necessity up for debate. Our referendum issue would have been the 26th October agreement. This is a beneficial package with many issues and of course commitments attached.
We said yesterday that this package will be the basic issue for the referendum, which of course is our guarantee for participation in the euro. Rejection of this package will for our partners signify the beginning of our exit from the euro. In the meeting somebody mentioned the fact that ‘if you leave the euro, it does not mean that you leave for ever – you will leave for ten years and then we will discuss matters again’.
The final result of rejecting the 26th October package, either by referendum, either by elections, or through parliament, or due to not being able to implement it, – would mean leaving the euro.
The non-implementation of the package would mean, quite simply, ‘out of the euro’, we must comprehend this and make it known to all. I believe that we have understood this. It is not the referendum, as some would say, that is at fault for this situation, it was the impossibility of implementing the package.
As to the negotiation, because there have been discussions as to a renegotiation, I believe that our answer to our partners was clear yesterday. It was crystal-clear. We negotiated. What do they mean by ‘renegotiation’? We are constantly negotiating.
How great a renegotiation should we have? Has there ever been such an enormous package negotiated over the past decades for our country? I remember us celebrating because we were to receive 20 billion for the CSF!
First of all, if all goes well the debt will be reduced by 100 billion. This is a huge package, unprecedented the world over. A second package, of 240 billion euros in total, over and above the write-off of debt is due. There are EU funds, on the basis of new conditions, capitalisation of banks, and mobilisation of our partners for investments in Greece – and these are all tools we must put to good use.
The discussions over the past few days here in Greece have been a revelation. For the first time in two years it has been impossible not to step up to the demands of the day. Those who accused us of ‘giving in’ are now begging us to vote and to show that we are responsible patriots!
Who is afraid of citizens now? Even those who formally were seeking a referendum do not dare to mention it. We do not however fear the people.
I do of course understand the moral difficulties that our members have as to the result of such a referendum. Even this minor doubt means that the result of the referendum will be watered down.
What, however, are the alternatives.
A national salvation government: so far we have been a government of national salvation, going it alone. For two years we have fought by ourselves but can we last I wonder.
Will our parliamentary group last? There have been insults and heckling, so I ask can we stand it? We can because we will carry this cross even though they cast stones as well as criticising us.
I fully feel and understand the difficulties you are all facing as members of parliament and if you think that you can proceed without solutions or referenda or broad consensus then let’s go it alone.
I have the feeling however that these two solutions exist. There is always the option of elections of course, but this would mean a greater danger of default and exit from the euro.
At least a referendum has many chances of sending a very positive message. I would not like to have it on my conscience and to regret that we did not go to a referendum and then find ourselves outside of the euro, because the Greek people did not have its say, and because we could not implement the beneficial decisions due to the reactions of some groups.
This is not of interest to our partners; however, they are not interested in who is to blame. Greece is to blame; it is not Samaras, nor Papandreou, not this group, nor the other.
They would like us to meet up to our commitments and they guarantee the implementation of the agreements which are beneficial to the country. Irrespective of disagreements or agreements on ideological issues, we cannot doubt that they desire the success of our country.
So we have dilemma –true consensus or referendum. As I said yesterday coming out of the meeting if there were consensus we would not a referendum. In the meeting this was stressed repeatedly. I said that ‘if the opposition comes to the table to agree on the agreement we do not need a referendum’. I also said that elections would be a third, though harmful solution.
You too have heard the statement by Samaras. I think that first of all we should welcome the fact that the New Democracy party will vote for the loan agreement. This is a major achievement I believe. I am not going to comment on previous moves by the opposition, what has been lost or what where the country now finds itself, – we can do this amongst ourselves
The basic fact is that the ND party will vote for the new loan agreement and I would add that in view of the negotiations ahead of us we should re-discuss its participation in this effort too.
Certain conditions have now been set down – a transitional government, elections, etc. This is an issue we should discuss together, not something we should a priori adopt or reject, because it is still a general statement with a number of contradictions.
What would a ‘transitional government’ entail? What does ‘we go to elections but this parliament will vote for the package’ mean? When will these elections be held, if elections are held, and for what purpose? We will discuss all this later. Here we have said that we will vote in order for the country not to be dragged either to a referendum or to elections.
I at least am content, even if we do not go to a referendum, which was never an end in itself, if by all this discussion many have seen the logic at least.
The real problem however still remains, we have not avoided the swirl. Even if some form of collaboration is achieved we must understand that the real problem remains. The discussion, on the other hand, will be done with sincerity and on the basis of the national interest.
What is at stake is the move on with the broadest possible consensus in implementing a programme that is beneficial for Greece. This issue is a political one, not one of procedure, it is profoundly political.
On this basis I propose that we appoint Dimitris Reppas and Nikos Athanasakis to discuss with respective cadres in the New Democracy party. I too will discuss with Samaras to see what the next steps will be, on the basis of a broader consensus. All will have their say of course and we will shape our proposals.
I think that today is a truly historic moment where the political parties have been able to agree on issues of major importance without conflict.
What this means for us we will see, but I think that we are here to serve our country above anything else."