Greek Political Leader Venizelos: 'A Long and Difficult Path Lies Ahead'

In a SPIEGEL interview, Evangelos Venizelos, the 55-year-old leader of Greece's PASOK party, the largest in parliament, defends his country against critics' views that it is incapable of reform and explains why he thinks the bailout is a good investment for German taxpayers. 

Socialist party leader Venizelos: "I want my country to again stand for hope, credibility and professionalism." Zoom
Nikos Chrisikakis/ Agentur Focus/ DER SPIEGEL

Socialist party leader Venizelos: "I want my country to again stand for hope, credibility and professionalism."

SPIEGEL: Mr. Venizelos, last year, at the time you left the Greek Defense Ministry to go to the Finance Ministry, you said: "Now I am entering the real war." Is this war now over?

Venizelos: No, the second rescue package for Greece was adopted and the debt was successfully restructured. This was not just the result of my personal efforts, but an achievement of all my colleagues in the euro zone and the representatives of the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The situation is now more secure, but the game is far from over. A long and difficult path lies ahead of us.

SPIEGEL: You have been active in politics for decades and you were just elected as the leader of the socialist PASOK party. Now you want to become the prime minister who represents the restart of Greece. Is this correct?

Venizelos: I've only been in the Greek parliament for 18 years. The candidate for the conservative New Democracy party, my rival Antonis Samaras, has been a member of parliament since the late 1970s.

SPIEGEL: The family of former Prime Minister George Papandreou has dominated your PASOK party for decades. Will the so-called Papandreou Party become the Venizelos Party now?

Venizelos: No, I do not belong to any political dynasty. I am the head of the Socialists, but the party is not my property.

SPIEGEL: What is your plan for Greece? Where will your country be 10 years from now?

Venizelos: I want my country to be able to determine its fate alone again and to no longer be financially dependent on other countries. We therefore need to change the rules of our entire state and society. The project is very ambitious: We must make sacrifices, but we also cannot fall into despair. The first step is the new elections that will hopefully take place in May.

SPIEGEL: The established parties are now threatened with an electoral disaster. In the last elections in October 2009, Socialists and Conservatives together garnered almost 80 percent of the vote. According to recent polls, the two parties have combined voter support of just over 30 percent. Has the two-party system of the past four decades in Greece come to an end?

Venizelos: We Socialists have five weeks to explain our program and explain to people that we are the only ones who can give the country a comprehensive proposal for its return to normality.

SPIEGEL: So far it looks as though the Greeks neither want to be saved by you nor Samaras. The cost of backing the aid packages was the loss of considerable support -- especially for you.

Venizelos: The country needs someone with experience and determination to make tough decisions. All the money aside, it is important that Greece restore its reputation.

SPIEGEL: In recent months, support for smaller parties that oppose the loan agreement has been growing. Is there a risk that Greece will become ungovernable for you?

Venizelos: Voters will decide how they want to be governed. The country needs a responsible and progressive government, with the political might to lead us out of the crisis. We do not believe in single-party, standalone governments; we believe in having a self-reliant country again. We must not only implement everything that has been agreed with our partners, but on top of that we must implement a consolidated national program of our own for the reconstruction of our country.

SPIEGEL: More than anything else, Greece is a symbol of the crisis today.

Venizelos: Yes, and that is something we need to change quickly. I want my country to again stand for hope, credibility and professionalism.

SPIEGEL: Does your country's bad reputation sadden you?

Venizelos: Of course. But we do not represent the most serious spot in the crisis.

SPIEGEL: What do you mean?

Venizelos: Greece is a medium-sized country in Europe. Our debt accounts for only 2.5 percent of the total of all members of the euro zone.

SPIEGEL: German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble probably views this differently. No other country has kept him as busy in the past two years as Greece.

Venizelos: Wolfgang Schäuble has become a friend of mine in recent months. We both want to protect our countries -- and this naturally has led us to different priorities. Accordingly, our views also differ.

SPIEGEL: Schäuble has proposed postponing Greek elections.

Venizelos: Everyone should respect the sovereignty of the EU countries. The organization of elections is a matter of national policy. Therefore, it does not need pressure from outside. The vast majority of Greeks accept the need for reform and want to keep our country inside the euro zone.

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Graphic: Greece's Economic Performance Zoom
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Graphic: Greece's Economic Performance


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