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Greek Ex-Foreign Minister: 'The Old System Is Dead'

Greek parliamentarian Dora Bakoyannis, the head of Greece's center-right Democratic Alliance party, speaks with SPIEGEL about the necessity of installing a new coalition government in Greece -- one that believes the country has a future in Europe.

SPIEGEL: What should the government that leads Greece out of the crisis look like?

Bakoyannis: With its black-and-white logic -- according to which one party is always right and the other one is always wrong -- the political system has brought us to where we now are. The old system is dead. We need a coalition government that believes Greece has a future in Europe.

SPIEGEL: So, does that mean you think there needs to be new elections as soon as possible?

Bakoyannis: We need the coalition government even before elections so that we can once again look our partners in the eyes and convince them that Greece has learned from its mistakes. In addition, we need independent experts and personalities in positions of leadership who can really implement the decisions coming out of Brussels, as well.

SPIEGEL: What would be different if your center-right New Democracy party was back in power instead of Giorgios Papandreou? The fact is that, until it was defeated in 2009, the party steered the country right into the debt crisis with its doctoring of the balance sheets and its falsified statistics.

Bakoyannis: There will no longer be any absolute majorities; New Democracy will be forced to govern together with others. That's important because the partners will not at all be bound to committing themselves to a binding program.

SPIEGEL: In the end, the same power cartel will be ruling -- but with reversed roles.

Bakoyannis: We will get a completely different parliament, one with more parties wanting to have a say in the government. Ninety-five percent of the members of our Democratic Alliance (party) are young people who have never been involved in politics.

SPIEGEL: Antonis Samaras, the head of the opposition and the conservative New Democracy party, has not voted for a single austerity measure and has summarily thrown critical members out of the party, including you after you voted (in favor of savings measures) with Papandreou's socialist PASOK party. Why should Samaras change all of a sudden?

Bakoyannis: Because he has to. One can keep oneself above water with populist arguments for a while. But now things are getting serious. What's more, we first have to see whether he will even lead the next government.

SPIEGEL: One more time, what do you imagine will be different after a change in power?

Bakoyannis: We need to once again become politically credible and financially creditworthy so that we can meet our partners on an equal footing. For example, I would like to sit down at a table with our German counterparts and say to them that we need growth in Greece. Growth means having an opportunity to pay back our money -- that is, your money -- more quickly. After all, we both have an interest in that.

SPIEGEL: Papandreou has said that Greece is not a bad country or a poor one but, rather, one that is poorly administered.

Bakoyannis: It really hurts me when the Greeks are depicted as being a lazy people. We work more than other Europeans. Haven't you ever asked yourself why the Greeks belonging to the first generation of guest workers made very good German citizens? Or why they are No. 1 in terms of education and wealth among the minorities in the United States? Or why the Greeks own the largest fleet in Europe?

SPIEGEL: Because the ships fly under the flags of different nations, and not a single ship owner in Greece pays taxes anymore.

Bakoyannis: They admittedly no longer have anything to do with the Greek state. We need to radically alter the state and its structures.

SPIEGEL: Panos Kazakos, an Athens-based professor of politics, claims that clientelism is Greece's organizing principle.

Bakoyannis: After this crisis, that will no longer be able to exist.

SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, the law regarding unified salary scales for civil servants and public-sector employees which went into effect on Nov. 1 preserves what amounts to clientelist interests. For example, radical unions set the tone in the semi-public companies listed on the stock exchange, such as DEH, the country's largest electric power company. And their employees have to contend with significantly fewer cut-backs.

Bakoyannis: Papandreou's former finance minister once said that we can't go up against ourselves because, of course, all the strong unions are led by PASOK. Accepting that was Papandreou's biggest mistake. Now all Greeks have to pay for it.

SPIEGEL: How do you reeducate an entire people?

Bakoyannis: I don't like this word; it's politically and historically loaded. One doesn't reeducate peoples. I know how many good traits the Greeks have, and I'm proud of them. When I was the mayor of Athens, no one -- including SPIEGEL -- believed that we could organize the 2004 Summer Olympics. That was very upsetting to me. But we pulled it off because the people of Athens -- the entire nation, in fact -- joined in. And now we'll pull it off again.

SPIEGEL: Greece's government recently compiled a list of 15,000 tax cheats who have defrauded the country of roughly €37 billion ($51 billion). Why do Greeks lack civic spirit, a willingness to put the common good above themselves?

Bakoyannis: A lack of civic spirit was the same argument that I had to listen to time and again in the run-up to the Olympic Games. We had the civic spirit and, in the end, we also had the games. That just goes to show that we now need a vision again, a reason to believe in ourselves.

SPIEGEL: But what about an understanding, as well, that you can no longer finance your prosperity on credit?

Bakoyannis: Greece has lived beyond its means, there's no doubt about it. Rather than producing things, we have purchased and consumed them -- incidentally, in Germany, as well. The German economy made an insane amount off us and the other countries in southern Europe. Now we want to produce things, and we hope that you'll buy things from us.

SPIEGEL: Has Greece's political class failed?

Bakoyannis: Totally. If we can't own up to our own mistakes, we won't be able to lead our country out of the crisis.

SPIEGEL: It must be hard for you to make this kind of concession. After all, you are the daughter of Constantine Mitsotakis, the forefather of one of the three major political dynasties in Greece.

Bakoyannis: No, my father led the government that was the first one to generate a primary surplus.

SPIEGEL: Sure, you can say that his government brought more in than it spent. But that's only the case if one disregards the interest payments for existing debts.

Bakoyannis: And he was the only prime minister who had already told the Greeks 20 years ago that they were living beyond their means. And that's also why he wasn't re-elected.

SPIEGEL: Should Greece leave the European Union and the euro zone?

Bakoyannis: Absolutely not. It would be a huge mistake if we jeopardized everything that we have built up. But things aren't going particularly well for Europe, either. It got the euro off the ground, but it wasn't prepared for a crisis with the new single currency.

Interview conducted by Manfred Ertel; Translated from the German by Josh Ward

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From DER SPIEGEL

About Dora Bakoyannis
  • AFP
    Dora Bakoyannis, 57, was the first female mayor of Athens from 2003 to 2006 and went on to become Greece's minister of foreign affairs from 2006 to 2009, the highest political position ever held by a woman in Greece. She was a member of the conservative New Democracy party until she was expelled from it in May 2010 for breaking ranks and voting in favor of austerity measures backed by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Six months later, she founded the Democratic Alliance, her own political party, although she continues to hold her parliamentary seat as an independent. Bakoyannis attended German schools in Greece and Paris as well as attending university in Munich. Her father, Constantine Mitsotakis, held a number of cabinet positions, including that of prime minister, from 1990 to 1993. In 1965, he joined a group of dissidents who broke off from the party led by the grandfather of current Greek president Giorgios Papandreou.
Graphic: Poll of Greeks Zoom
DER SPIEGEL

Graphic: Poll of Greeks



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