10155814_308166982670698_5600242971643042089_nThe era of austerity, the Memoranda and the troika is over, this is definitive and irreversible

Konstantinos Zachariadis

Lisbon 20/03/15

I am here, among you, not only as a Greek citizen and member of central board of SYRIZA but also as a European citizen who is fighting so that political change in Greece gives a new challenge to Europe.

Because Greece is not sui generis, it’s symptomatic of a wider Euro malaise. It has become almost commonplace to argue that Europe desperately needs to escape the trap of austerity in order to usher in a new era of growth and prosperity.

The electoral victory of SYRIZA on January 25th has given new hope to millions of people suffering from austerity in Europe.

We need to respect democracy and the expression of the free will of the peoples, if we are not to surrender Europe to the extreme nationalist and populist right.

For Greece, the era of austerity, the Memoranda and the troika is over. And this is definitive and irreversible. Those who act as if the Greek people never voted or as if their vote is irrelevant, actually render Europe irrelevant in the eyes of its citizens.

The Greek government no longer pretends that there is no humanitarian crisis in Greece as a consequence of the recessionary policies of internal devaluation.

The Greek government no longer pretends that the country’s public debt is viable and serviceable, when it stands at around 178% of GDP.

I am coming from a country that, for the last five years, has been used as the experimentation field for the establishment of the new neoliberal European strategy of austeritarianism. Since May 2010, the authoritarian and anti-constitutional application of the so-called Memorandums by the social-democratic and right-wing governments in accordance with the Troika, sentenced Greece to 6 consecutive years of recession and increased the national debt from 120% of the GDP to 178%.

The unprecedented recession, the heavy taxation on working and middle classes and small and medium enterprises and the explosion of private debt, resulted in the stagnation of the real economy. Greece lost 25% of its GDP in 4 years.

Subsequently, the massive wave of lay-offs in the private and public sector resulted in an unprecedented 27% of general unemployment rate. Youth unemployment has reached 60% and, as a result, more than 300.000 Greeks – among them, 100.000 young scientists- have migrated to the four corners of the world in the last five years. The total number of unemployed citizens exceeds 1,5 million.

1/3 of the Greek population has lost access to social security and free healthcare, including free children’s vaccination. Children are fainting in kindergartens and schools because of malnutrition.

The minimum wage has dropped down to 586 Euro and even reaches 510 Euro for young workers and employees up to the age of 25.

Suicide rates have increase by 40% since 2007.

Hundreds of thousands of households have lost access to electricity.

Facing such an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, the Greek people made a historical step on January 25th. They massively rejected austeritarianism and gave SYRIZA the opportunity to become the first Greek Left party in history that undertakes governmental responsibility.

After five years of economic decline and social hardship, our country remains in a desperate economic state. Our problems range over many aspects of economic activity, from financial precariousness to mass unemployment and poverty.

The task of our government is far from being easy. It requires substantial reforms to deal with historically rooted injustices and the inefficiencies of our economic system.

It is absolutely vital for Greece to have its public debt restructured. That would make the country solvent, lowering dramatically the yields on the ten-year government bonds and making it possible for us, once, again, to meet our financing needs in the capital markets.

The vicious cycle of a debt trap and permanent dependence are hardly a recipe for a healthy Eurozone as a whole.

We have to replace political myopia with inspiration and boldness.

Greece needs fiscal space to regain the capacity to plan and organize its economy.

Moreover this will be backed with a negotiated agreement with our partners on the issue of the viability and serviceability of public debt. But even if we were somehow able to remove the entire public debt, it would grow again soon, if we didn’t eradicate its underlying causes.

This is why we need reforms. And this is why we need fiscal space: to be able to tackle the basic problems of the real economy, of the relationship of the state with the economy and of the state with the society.

To put it differently, we need to put flesh on the bone of that Contract for Recovery and Growth so that we can ensure that, if we achieve debt sustainability and an appropriate fiscal space, we will have a model that is economically sustainable and sensitive to democratic, social and ecological aspirations.

As you know, the immediate priorities of our reform drive, lie in addressing the humanitarian crisis and the desperate need to confront Greece’s chronic problem with respect to tax evasion and corruption.

Regarding the first, no Left government could begin anywhere else than addressing access, for instance, to food, shelter and energy.

With respect to the second, among other things, we will target fuel and tobacco smuggling, tighten the legislation concerning the funding of political parties, strengthen the independence of the General Secretariat of Public Revenues, while guaranteeing full accountability and transparency of its operations and broaden the definition of tax fraud and tax evasion while disbanding tax immunity.

The reform of the public sector is a more difficult enterprise. We have already begun by streamlining the government itself. For example we have already reduced the number of Ministries.

We will continue to work towards drastically improving the efficiency of central and local government departments by targeting budgetary processes, management restructuring, and reallocation of poorly deployed resources.

We would like Greece to be a leader in green transformation strategies. Some of the major shift will be through the introduction of distributed systems (in energy or waste for instance), but this can be extended to other areas such as construction or industrial design.

The core of our policies is not to reform Greece; it is to transform Greece.

I hope that the message that Greece has entered a new historic era has become clear.

The neoliberal political and financial elites do not insist on the draconian rules of the current austerity programs because they believe that these programs brought positive results; in the previous days, the German right-wing government and its closest allies, like Mr. Rajoy and Mr. Coelho, escalated their offensive and their strictness against Greece, in a desperate attempt to avoid a political gesture of tolerance towards the Greek demands.

They are all having nightmares of ending up like their favorite Greek puppet, Mr Samaras, because they understand that, with the Spanish elections coming in November and the Sinn Fein leading the opinion polls in Ireland, even a partial victory of the Greek democratic government in the on-going negotiation process, will signal the beginning of the end for the hegemony of austeritarianism in Europe.

We are confident and we are determined to succeed, because we know that the vast majority of the Greek society stands on our side. According to the first opinion polls after the elections, an impressive 70% of citizens support the negotiating tactic and demands of the government, while SYRIZA reaches an overwhelming 46% of the vote!

Moreover, this is the first time in the contemporary political history of our country that thousands of people demonstrate in the streets and the squares of our country, not against but in support of their democratic government, without the fear of getting teargased or bitten, because simply there is no riot police to confront and repress peaceful demonstrators in the streets or even in front of the National Parliament!

We are becoming even more confident whenever we see thousands of Europeans demonstrating throughout our continent in solidarity with the demand of the Greek government and the Greek people for the termination of austerity in Greece and Europe.

On behalf of SYRIZA and the new, democratic Greek government, I would like to express our warmest fraternal gratitude to our Portuguese brothers and sisters.