First memorandum was a matter of ‘survival,’ says ex-FinMin

Greece’s acceptance of crippling austerity measures in exchange for its first bailout loan from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — collectively known as the troika — was a matter of survival, former Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou said on Tuesday morning.

Speaking on Skai Television, the ex-finance chief, who now holds the environment portfolio, admitted that the government under George Papandreou made mistakes in the implementation of reforms in 2010, when the dire state of Greece’s economy shut it out of the markets, but he added that decisions had to be taken that he could not have foreseen, «even in my worst nightmares.”

“I do not regret that we signed the memorandum,» Papaconstantinou said of Greece first bailout deal, for 109 billion euros, signed in May 2010. «The memorandum was what needed to be done so that the country could continue to stand on its own two feet,» he said.

Speaking of the mistakes he feels he and the PASOK government made, Papaconstantinou said «I wanted to reform a problematic and corrupt tax mechanism much too fast,» adding that the failure of the PASOK government to meet the troika’s terms — leading to Papandreou stepping down and being replaced by technocrat Lucas Papademos at the helm of a unity government — has come at a great «personal and political cost.”

“I can’t go out in public or enjoy going out with my wife for a coffee,» Papaconstantinou added, saying that he has come under verbal attack by members of the crisis-worn public on several occasions.

Responding to whether there is a chance that his name will not be included on PASOK’s candidate list in upcoming general elections — expected in early May — Papaconstantinou said that he has asked to be «judged by the citizens» and refuted speculation that his relations with the current leader of PASOK and his successor at the Finance Ministry, Evangelos Venizelos, are strained.

“There is no iciness in my relations with Venizelos; in fact we had a very good talk yesterday,» Papaconstantinou said.