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Politics

'The program that has been used in Greece has failed'

The head of Greece's left-wing alliance Syriza, Alexis Tsipras, wants to take the reins in Athens and end the austerity program after elections in June. He told DW that EU's policies so far have failed.

Alexis Tsipras is head of Greece's radical left-wing alliance, Syriza, which came second in the May 6 elections. His party is hoping to take over after fresh elections in June, when he has vowed to reject austerity measures and work towards growth and justice instead.

DW: Various heads of government in the eurozone insist that Greece must stick to the agreements which were the conditions under which it received the loans. If you were to be in a position to form a government, how would you justify approaching them and demanding new negotiations?

Alexis Tsipras: The cornerstone of European politics is democracy, not austerity. We should all respect that. If a people corrects defective policies by means of an election, the partners in the agreement have to sit down with the people's new representatives - in this case, those of the Greek people - and examine what went wrong. The mistake should be corrected and things put back on track. The way the conservative - or rather, the leading powers in Europe are reacting to the Greek people's cry for help is tainted with guilt, because they're not prepared to accept that they have made a mistake.

But who do you want to negotiate with in Europe if they all stick by what they have said and refuse to enter into new negotiations?

I know that the political forces that govern Europe today are either neo-liberal, conservative, or social-democratic. However, I know of no European agreement that forbids other political forces to come to power. So if the Greek people vote us into power, all the European partners - regardless of whether they agree with us politically to us or not - will have to accept this decision. They will have to accept us as the new government of the Greek people and not as a political force they don't agree with.

To what extent are you prepared to compromise on the issue of the conditions of credit?

We are ready to go to the absolute limit in order to assert the rights of the Greek people. We are not demanding anything absurd if we ask our partners to compromise. The program that has been used in Greece has failed.

We are turning to the German people, the German taxpayers, and asking them: for how long have you been throwing your money into a bottomless pit? You can't constantly keep investing in an ineffective program, because if that continues, in a few months Greece is going to need a third package of loans and second debt cut. As I say, we are not claiming anything absurd. What is absurd is when the European governments persist with their mistake. The mistake has to be corrected.

What, in your opinion, is going wrong?

We mustn't concentrate on the symptom; we have to look at what caused the crisis. And this cause has to do with the architecture on which the euro is based. On the one hand, it's the weakness of the ECB, which is not fulfilling its role as the central bank of a monetary union. On the other hand it's the political weakness of the EU in asserting itself against the financial markets.

Part of the credit agreement doesn't just deal with wage cuts and cuts in pensions; it also calls for structural reforms within the state itself - measures against corruption and tax evasion. Is this something you also want?

Absolutely. These structural reforms should have been implemented long ago. We - who until recently were only a minor political force - have also in the past criticized the structures of the Greek state, and have demanded that many things should change. But in order to successfully implement the structural measures we need a stable economic environment.

When we find ourselves in the fifth year of the recession, as a result of which the gross domestic product of our country has been reduced by 20 percent, and when we find ourselves in an economic decline such as no European country has ever experienced in peacetime, it's impossible to implement any of the desired reforms.

What is your position on the agreed privatization of state property?

We don't believe that everything has to remain under state control; that for example casinos have to remain the property of the state. But we do believe that the energy and telecommunications industries must be nationalized. Otherwise the people would have to pay horrendous prices. So we are of the opinion that state property should serve the needs of the community and should not be sold off for next to nothing.

Yours was a party with just four percent of the vote. In the last election you got 17 percent; in the next you'll probably get 20, 24, 28 percent, and may even be able to form a government. Would you agree that the new voters are not radical left-wing voters, that they're mostly protest voters, and that they probably aren't looking for left-wing solutions, either for Greece or for Europe?

Everything that's happening in Greece can be a trigger for progressive solutions in Europe. We have to realize that the current crisis is not a Greek crisis but a European crisis, so we have to seek a European solution.

As far as the composition of our electoral base is concerned: as soon as a vote is in the ballot box it's impossible to tell who put it there, what he believes, or why he voted as he did. But I can understand that the dynamism that Syriza now has, is fueled by the despair of the Greek people and the general impoverishment after two years of cutbacks. On the other hand, it's also the case - and this should not be overlooked - that we have given people a perspective, something to hope for.

We have been presenting suggestions since the crisis began. We didn't propagate the crisis, nor did we bank on the impoverishment of the people in order to profit from it. We are relying on growth, and we are seeking a European solution on the basis of growth and social justice.

Interview: Panagiotis Kouparanis / cc, ng
Editor: Andreas Illmer