No additional tax measures
If you could sum up the main positive and negative factors of the year since you have been in power, what would they be? Among the issues of major national importance was the success of the Olympic Games. Equally important is the fact that all of us, both the people of Greece and the European Union, are now aware of the country’s true economic situation and can act upon it. You mean the auditing of public finances? Not only that. Both issues that I mentioned, the Olympics and the economy, have a common denominator. They restored in the eyes of the Greek people the image of a country capable of resolving problems and which can play a leading role on the international stage. What about the negative factors? They are the… familiar time-consuming, clumsy procedures that every government is forced to assume responsibility for. That is why we have set for ourselves the challenge of rebuilding the state. For it is within a renewed and more functional state administration that Greeks will see tangible results in their daily lives. But that will take time. It is not true that ministers are in conflict due to overlapping authorities. The truth is that joint authorities should be reduced as far as possible so that the wheels of the state can turn faster and more efficiently. Are you referring to joint authorities that should not exist? Yes, but above all to time-consuming procedures. Consider the question of the major public works that are such a necessary part of a country’s growth. If it takes years to get from the initial call for tenders to the completion of the project, it is not because there is no political will, but because various obstacles are raised along the way. If there are protests or judicial delays, then things are made even worse. At the moment, the political will exists and a greater effort is being made to move public works ahead as fast as possible. Nevertheless, unforeseen circumstances can arise. Do you think the government wasted time in pushing ahead with its policies? No, I don’t. It takes some time for things to mature, for results to become apparent. That means three, four or five months of preparation for every issue, so no, I don’t feel that there have been delays, and I believe that people’s criticisms are an incentive for us to work faster. Society is «the wind in our sails.» The people are in agreement with our initiatives and our reforms. But because of the stagnation of decades, they want things to speed up. I firmly believe that our pace is the right one and that it will benefit us politically, not only the government, but the country, that society is impatient for us to move faster. Some say you should have made the economic reforms earlier. Let me remind you that the Olympic Games were a major challenge for the nation and required a great amount of energy. To those who claim – I would like to believe with good intentions – that the steps should have been taken six months earlier, for example, I have this to say: First of all, we had to complete the economic audit, with all the hidden debts that existed. Even after drafting and passing the budget, major fiscal burdens appeared that were included in the deficit. Secondly, our efforts were largely aimed at restricting expenditure and waste. When it became clear that the deficit was almost five times the estimate when the 2004 budget was passed, we were forced to take some measures. And I say «forced» because they were unavoidable. People fear that more measures of this kind are to follow. Is that true? No, under no circumstances. Getting back to bureaucracy. Are the obstacles it raises politically motivated? The issue is not the civil servants’ partisan standpoint. I don’t think it is a problem if the majority of civil servants support a specific party that was in power for many years. Nor would I say that corruption is so widespread as to be all-pervasive. It is of course a serious issue, but the biggest problem is the force of inertia. Can the situation in the public administration be changed? Is there a need for an additional impetus? The one need not rule out the other. On the one hand is the question of exploiting existing personnel; on the other there is no doubt that fresh impetus from the private sector should be brought in. Thousands of civil servants on short-term contracts are concerned about the uncertainty regarding the constitutional validity of the presidential decree on granting them permanent tenure. Can you reassure them? There is no problem. We have exhausted all the margins of both Greek and European Union legislation and made a significant amendment. For a large number of contract staff, the problem is being resolved automatically. Those not covered by the law will receive a large number of points. The government did what it had to do and consider the view of the Council of State. Whatever the outcome, the presidential decree is being implemented.