NEWS

‘I will continue to be a severe critic’

New Democracy has been in government for more than three years, but still has a lead in the opinion polls. Is your criticism too harsh and does PASOK have time to turn things around in the months before the next elections? My criticism is well founded and responsible. I will continue to be a severe critic of this government, and I will be just as severe if not more so with my own government. I know Greece can do better and deserves better. We can attract investment and create new jobs. We can protect the environment and build a green economy. We can change the education system to the benefit of all. Our institutions can work effectively. No plans, no vision The government of Costas Karamanlis has lost historic opportunities for Greece and undermined significant advantages. It acts without direction, planning, coordination or vision for the future. The deep disappointment of the public has harmed the credibility of the political system. The administration has polarized the public on major issues, got caught up in its own impasses and handled power as a party matter. The entire government does nothing but think of the elections and make pre-election handouts. PASOK faces a double challenge, not only to win the elections but also to restore the public’s trust in Greece and its potential. As for polls, the turnaround is happening now. At the next elections, whether in September or March, the sooner the better, PASOK will be the new government and, together with the people, will implement great new changes. Many believe you overemphasized the bond issue to the exclusion of other matters. What is your response? The insurance fund scandal has made the public feel very insecure for the past 120 days, and that is entirely the government’s responsibility. First, it is mired in the story, with high-ranking officials involved. Second, its manner of handling the problem perpetuates and aggravates it. The premier has proved incapable of handling this major issue transparently and in the public interest. And this scandal has shown ND has no credibility when it comes to dealing with the social insurance issue. You have also been criticized for using harsh expressions such as «gang» to describe the government. It is said you have acted out of character, since you had the profile of a politician who avoids acrimony. Don’t confuse strictness and sincerity with acrimony. The acrimony comes from the government’s furious attempt to cover up the bond scandal. We seek a positive vote. For months, we have been discussing our platform. Have you been too quick to criticize the government over its handling of the fires? The public has expressed anger and indignation over the inertia, the lack of coordination, confusion and the slapdash approach of the ministers concerned. Of course, we must also support the brave endeavors of the fire service, electricity utility technicians, local government officials and volunteers. In March, Karamanlis assured us that the national plan to prevent and fight forest fires was implemented «earlier than ever before.» This government and the prime minister have been unable to deal with any crisis in the past four years. You have said publicly that PASOK will boost education and health. How can you do this without increasing the deficit again? The funds for speeding up development and boosting social cohesion – investment in education, research, health, the social state and public infrastructure – will come from rationalizing public expenditures, curbing waste, and capitalizing on state-owned real estate and assets and the peace dividend. It will also come from new revenues the state will get from faster development, stamping out tax evasion, and a more just and effective distribution of wealth. There will be no greater fiscal burden, but a gradual decrease in the deficit and debt. These major reforms will eventually result in savings, as they are linked with less bureaucracy and greater efficiency in public services. You often speak of reforming social insurance by consensus. Will you retreat if there is opposition, as during the administration of Costas Simitis? We will implement the 2003 reform to make up for lost time and utilize the room for rationalization that exists in the system. We will also initiate meaningful social dialogue on a viable social insurance system that will retain its redistributory, universal and public character. We are committed to trilateral funding of the insurance system and ensuring its viability, without raising the age limit or lowering pensions. The government bears serious responsibility for the insurance issue. Instead of proceeding with the 2003 reform, it wasted time scaring pensioners about their future. The effect was apparent in a spike in early retirement due to the uncertainty that policy engendered among workers. Corruption How do you plant to deal with corruption and do you plan to indicate a break with what some see as PASOK’s «sinful past»? We presented specific proposals for combating corruption but the Karamanlis government ignored them and the essence of the battle against corruption. Corruption has direct consequences on the economy and on family budgets. It impedes development and competition. It is downright injustice to society as a whole, to social cohesion. Corruption is a structural problem. The funds scandal was not an individual case of corruption but an organized plan. I promise a government that will respond to strict criteria, with people who will manage power and handle public funds responsibility and transparently. I cannot accept the term you used in relation to PASOK, which defames an entire party. We cannot do that, no matter what mistakes or omissions you may be referring to. There’s much talk of no one party winning sufficient votes to govern alone, due to the new electoral law. Do you rule out PASOK’s forming a coalition along German lines? There is no such prospect. Besides, even the agreement we proposed on specific issues such as education, foreign policy, transparency, tackling bureaucracy and consolidating meritocracy in public administration garnered no interest from the government, because ND has a different political agenda. There is no point of contact with ND. We represent two different worlds, different ideologies and perceptions. You can be sure that PASOK will govern in its own right.