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07 March 2015

Der Spiegel: Interview with Greek Prime Minister Tsipras: 'We don't want to go on borrowing forever'

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In the interview Tsipras discussed planned reforms, the polarizing effect his government has had on Europe and the possibility of a "Graccident," Greece's accidental exit from the euro zone.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Prime Minister, most of your European partners are indignant. They accuse you of saying one thing in Brussels and then saying something completely different back home in Athens. Do you understand where such accusations come from?

Tsipras: We say the same things in Germany as we do in Greece. But sometimes, problems can be viewed differently, depending on the perspective. (He points to his water glass.) This glass here can be described as being half full or half empty. The reality is that it is a glass filled half-way with water.

SPIEGEL: In Brussels, you have given up your demands for a debt haircut. But back home in Athens, you continue talking about a haircut. What does that have to do with perspective?

Tsipras: At the summit meeting, I used the language of reality. I said: Prior to the bailout program, Greece had a sovereign debt that was 129 percent of its economic output. Now, it is 176 percent. No matter how you look at that, it's not possible to service that debt. But there are different ways to solve this problem: via a debt cut, debt restructuring or bonds whose payback is tied to growth. The most important thing, though, is solving the true problem: the austerity which has driven debt way up.

SPIEGEL: Are you a linguist or a politician? You told the Greeks that you got rid of the troika and sold it as a victory. But the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB) are still monitoring your reforms. Now, they are simply called "the institutions." 

Tsipras: No, it isn't a question of terminology. It has to do with the core of the issue. Every country in Europe has to work together with these institutions. But that is something very different than a troika that is beholden to nobody. Its officials came to Greece to strictly monitor us. Now, we are again speaking directly with the institutions. Europe has become more democratic because of this change.

SPIEGEL: What change? You still have to submit your reform plans to three "institutions" for approval.

Tsipras: The reforms won't be approved by the institutions. They have a say in the process and establish a framework that applies to all in Europe. Previously, the situation was such that the troika would send an email telling the Greek government what it had to do. Our planned reforms are necessary, but we are deciding on them ourselves. They aren't being forced onto us by anyone. We want to stop large-scale tax evasion and tax fraud more than anybody. Thus far, it has only been the low earners and not the wealthy that paid. We also want to make the state more efficient.

SPIEGEL: But we're still a bit confused. Does Greece want and need a third bailout package in June when you run out of money?

Tsipras: I wouldn't call it a bailout.

SPIEGEL: What would you call it instead?

Tsipras: I would say that Greece has financing needs. We have massively consolidated our budget in recent years and now have primary surpluses instead of deficits. But we still can't borrow money ourselves on the capital markets. To do so, we have to win back trust, become competitive and return to growth. Until that time, though, we have to finance ourselves in another way.

SPIEGEL: Which means, you need money from the Europeans.

Tsipras: Look, it's not about philanthropy for Greece. It's about joint responsibility and European solidarity. If Greece can't service its debt, that also has an effect on our partners. As such, a safety net for Greece is necessary and we also have to return to the capital markets as rapidly as possible. But that can't be combined with a program that has led to a situation of social distress; we need one that brings growth.

SPIEGEL: That is likely the opposite of what the German government would like to hear.

Tsipras: Some believe that investment can be triggered by further reducing labor costs. But we have already reduced them by 40 percent and it has hardly resulted in any new investment at all. The money that has flowed to Greece was aimed at saving the banks -- it didn't solve our liquidity problem. We don't want to go on borrowing money forever; we want to get out of this tight spot. But we can only commit to measures that we are also able to implement.

SPIEGEL: If we understand you correctly, you want more loans, but you don't want to subject yourself to any more controls.

Tsipras: In a crumbling society and a country with a humanitarian crisis, you can't sink wages any further. We can, however, push forward with structural reforms. We want to finally create institutions to efficiently apply taxes. We want to modernize the judiciary so that you no longer have to wait a year for a verdict. In the future, it should be possible to establish a company quickly and without extensive bureaucracy. We will also develop a land and property registry, something that has been promised since 1930.

SPIEGEL: Why do you think you will be successful in doing what your predecessors promised to do, but failed?

Tsipras: Because we are not part of the old system, as our predecessors were. In particular, we will restrict the unrestrained activities of the oligarchs. They control the media and still receive huge loans from the banks, in contrast to normal companies. We would also like to monitor the work of state suppliers, which have established vast cartels. No reasonable person can be opposed to such a plan, and we are determined to tackle it.

Full interview on Der Spiegel

© Der Spiegel

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