Meeting of Cabinet | Prime Minister’s speech
PRIME MINISTER’S OFFICE
Sunday, May 2, 2010
Ladies and Gentlemen, I have convened this Cabinet today to an historic meeting. All the citizens of Greece feel the crucial nature of these moments and the burden of historical responsibility. Avoiding bankruptcy is a red line for the Nation.
I would like to make it absolutely clear to everybody – I have done and will always do whatever it takes for the country not to go bankrupt. We are waging together a difficult and relentless battle dealing with the problems- the dimensions of which one could never have imagined. It is true, we were the first to speak of the crisis – a crisis of politics, a crisis of institutions, a crisis of values which in turn led to the huge economic crisis.
No citizen of Greece could however ever have imagined the size of the debt and the deficit which the former government had caused and hid upon its exit. This is not the time for accusations, however. The people of Greece are fully aware of where they lie. The consequences however are manifold.
First of all, the lack of trust that Greek citizens have in their institutions and the present political system, the lack of credibility of our political system is so great that citizens even show distrust to us and to this government. From the first day however I personally and all of us here have fought battle after battle trying to finally make those profound changes and create a society where justice prevails, where the money of the Greek people is put to good use and where the democratic state protects the rights of its citizens.
For the first time in years a government is working with such dedication to the task assigned to it by the citizens of this country.
In all sincerity, we are a different government. Despite this long battle with the crisis of debt and lending, day by day, we are making small and even greater reforms to a system which did not serve the interests of this country.
This is something we will continue to do ceaselessly as we round the cape of economic crisis in order not to find ourselves in this situation again.
Our first concern was to regain credibility with our citizens. We have been honest from the very first moment with the Greek people.
A second objective was to regain credibility internationally and chiefly with Europe, because in October 2009 nobody would listen to us. Nobody would believe us. We have struggled to this end because we knew that without credibility we would find no understanding - let alone support. We would be in a vacuum. We would be struggling alone, abandoned to our enormous debts. These are our debts. We would have been alone face to face with our creditors and speculators.
We could not have rallied support due to our previous lack of credibility. The only possible help – and this would have been an even more difficult route- was the 10-20 billion Euros which at best the IMF would have ensured, at a time when the state needed 60 billion Euros in loans annually.
We have waged a battle of credibility and have won and today present a programme for a different Greece, along with immediate emergency measures in order to convince people that these were not just empty words. We have moved ahead with radical changes to the tax system, in transparency and the structure and functioning of the state.
We have taken austere and painful measures which were however necessary to increase revenue, to restrict expenditure, to continue to function as a state, to ensure the maximum, to be able to continue paying salaries and pensions.
To show that the citizens of Greece have not fled the battle we have run a marathon of contacts and negotiations. It is with this struggle to regain credibility that we have been able to make the international community sit up and take notice of the courageous efforts of our people. We have been able to convince our partners that the problem of Greece is not solely our problem. -it also concerns the functioning of the markets. It concerns the protection of the Euro.
Thus, the European Union decided to set up a completely new mechanism to support Greece. The decision of the European Union on the 25th March was decisive and historic for Greece but also for Europe. Just think where we would be today without this European support mechanism – our problems would be unsurpassable.
We had sincerely believed, both we and our European partners, that the existence of this mechanism would in itself be enough to facilitate the borrowing needs of Greece. Unfortunately that was not the case.
From the first moment, the first E.U. Council of Ministers I attended as Prime Minister of Greece – and without once shirking the responsibility of Greece – I stated that the problem was greater and more serious.
I stated that it concerned the stability of the financial system of Europe and the Euro, that it concerned the functioning of the international financial system and that a small fire could kindle a firestorm. Some people agreed, some not. Perhaps some thought we were seeking an alibi to offload responsibility instead of undertaking our own responsibilities.
We however undertake this responsibility despite the decisions of the European Union, positive decisions. Ambiguities gave a signal to the market that there was a lack of decisiveness. Some have targeted Greece which through its own actions became the weak link and guinea-pig. Greece continued to be the target and guinea-pig in an unfavourable international economic climate. It was a weak link and easy prey to speculators.
Today the problem has assumed greater proportions. We see that the fire threatens to spread harming Greece even more, but also spreading to other countries and economies of the Eurozone and even further afield.
The cost of putting out the fire is expected to be much greater, as unfortunately will be the burden that Greek citizens have to bear. The need to have recourse to the mechanism unavoidably means additional and more immediate efforts and sacrifices sought by creditors and our partners in order to guarantee financing our needs and for us to move out of the crisis safely.
I know that with the decisions today our citizens must suffer greater sacrifices. The alternative however would be catastrophe and greater suffering for us all. This is why we have decided not to yield one step. This is not a pleasant decision for me or for anybody. We are here however to take the correct decisions for our country. This was and is our responsibility.
This is the responsibility that I personally have undertaken to serve. This is a responsibility towards the common interest of Hellenism. We have realized very early on that a European mechanism was needed which could help refinance our debt with record amounts in world history.
We have set up this mechanism from scratch. We sought its activation a few days ago and today we ratify the agreement. This is an unprecedented agreement and an unprecedented support package for an unprecedented effort by the Greek nation.
Critics and even our well-intentioned friends say: ‘There will be political fallout. PASOK is turning its back on its policies. You will only see one term of office’.
My answer is : PASOK always has a red line – the interest of our nation and nothing else.
I have said it and I will say it again – I have never sought to come to power for power’s sake, only to contribute. I stake nothing by sacrifices, my only interest is when I hand over that I will have done what is right and for us to create together a different and much better Greece. That is why I will take whatever decision is necessary.
At the end of my term of office, Greece will not be bankrupt- it will be reborn.
It was not our choice to take measures against the just and unjust. It was our choice to put order in the affairs of the state, to revive our economy in a socially just manner. Economic reality however obliges us to take very tough decisions. This is recognized the world over.
At the same time the first positive results can already be seen. The budget deficit has been reduced for the first quarter by 40% against last year.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we know that these are hard sacrifices, but they are necessary. This is the only way that we will be able to finance the 300 billion Euros debt we have. If we do not finance this debt, Greece will go bankrupt.
Tomorrow, as we come around the cape, we can dedicate ourselves to the task of creating a different Greece. I convened the Cabinet meeting for it to give its initial approval to these commitments we are called upon to make. Many of the measures are perfectly feasible because we too wish to build a new competitive Greece, a Greece which is financially viable and independent, which can take its fate into its own hand… A Greece that decides its own future.
Many of the measures are also emergency measures we are called upon to take. We could have avoided them had we the freedom of choice- especially if we had the time we needed and could have put to good use, had we not found ourselves faced with this huge economic crisis.
This is why these sacrifices are being made today: to enable us to have the breathing space we need, to find the time needed as well as peace of mind to make the historic changes in our country which our nation has entrusted to the Panhellenic Socialist Movement.
We are shaping a truly new patriotism, which means that we change practices and conceptions. We are to highlight whatever best Greece and Hellenism has: ‘meraki’ (dedication to effort), ‘filotimo’, (sense of duty) solidarity, humaneness, hospitality, uprightness, imagination, creativity, alacrity of wit needed for productivity. This is our Greece of values.
New patriotism means that we do not only praise symbols and history, but take care of our fellow citizen, and the common interest, we take care of our environment, take care of Greece which belongs to all of us. New patriotism means a new collective Greek conscience.
This message goes out to all. We send it to the European Union and to the International Community watching us- who will be watching us, not only over the next few days but the coming months. They will be watching and evaluating our reactions, watching Greek society. We want to show a Greece that is changing, that is being reborn, a Greece of which we are proud.
We are talking of historic changes for citizens, historic changes which will take Greece definitively out of the crisis. At this historic crossroads however there is no other choice that will save our country. Given the exceptionally tight negotiating framework in which we found ourselves, any negotiation was difficult.
What is positive is that employees in the private sector are not affected. We have had, however, to take additional painful measures which affect pensioners and civil servants because the ‘sick man’ is the public sector and the sooner we change it the faster we will revive our economy and regain lost ground being yielded by Greeks today.
As the Minister of Finance has explained, we have tried to save whatever we could and tried to ensure that consequences for the weaker in society are minimal. This is our philosophy, these are the principles of PASOK as a movement.
I wish to stress that this national effort requires the political system to set an example. This is why I will ask of the President of the Parliament to undertake initiatives for the Parliament to head the effort and for Members of Parliament to participate in the burden and forsake their bonuses. This is only a small taste of overall change in the way the political system we are trying to implement will function.
I have ordered the Minister of Finance to speed up the procedure for drawing up the new electoral law so that the political system will be established on new sound basis. We must say in all sincerity to the citizens of Greece that we have trying times ahead. We are seeking a new meaning to our values however, such as quality, humanness, democracy, solidarity between us – we are opening up a new road.
I want to thank you all for the courage and the feeling of responsibility that you have all shown all this time. We have stood and will stand up to our responsibilities to the future of our country, to the forthcoming generations. We must hand them a country that is robust without the deficits that our generation created to emerge not only winners but stronger that before.
We must perform great feats. We will see difficult times, but we will succeed by making a new start in everything. We will seek out our values and give them a new meaning, such as quality, humanness, solidarity
We do not promise to have an easy or painless time over the next few years. I do however promise three basic things: first of all that we will do everything to protect the weakest in this crisis.
Secondly: that the feeling of justice will be consolidated since this has been lost and obviously there is anger. This is something we feel, we all understand. Something I understand. This is the rage of citizens today who have to pay for the sins of others. Justice, equality in the eyes of the law, the just distribution of burden and wealth are for us a daily battle and commitment.
Thirdly: I promise to fight alongside all of you and to make this crisis an opportunity for change. We must change, Greece must change, we must think and dream differently, and make Greece different. This is a new beginning which will make us proud of our country and of our work.
I would like to thank you once again for the feeling of responsibility that you have all shown. I must stress again that Greeks have always come through difficulties stronger and victorious. This is the case today too. This is why I have every confidence in the strength of Greece. If we all work together, all together for the Greece we deserve and dream of- we will succeed. We will go through difficult times but we will be successful. In this battle, I will always be at the forefront.