Alexis Tsipras: As a Greek, I’m proud to lead Europe’s Left


Alexis Tsipras tells EURACTIV Greece in an exclusive interview that his candidacy for the European Commission presidency on behalf of the European Left shows the solidarity of Europe’s southern people, who are suffering from the “catastrophic” social consequences of austerity policy.

Syriza, or Coalition of the Radical Left, is the second largest party in Greece and the main opposition force. At the June 2012 elections, the centre-right New Democracy (ND) led by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras won 29.66% of the votes, followed by Syriza with 26.89%. PASOK came third with only 12.28%. Alexis Tsipras, a civil engineer, is the head of the Syriza parliamentary group since 2009 and leader of the opposition since June 2012.

What is the political meaning of your candidacy for president of the European Commission on behalf of the Party of the European Left?

It is a very important candidacy because it puts forward my identity as a Greek and a European politician of the Left with a concrete and realistic political plan, an alternative to today’s Europe that has succumbed to the neoliberal hegemony; a hegemony which endeavours to reorganise Europe to the benefit of its banks and to the detriment of its peoples; to the benefit of its capital and to the detriment of its workers.

Thus, the candidacy of the European Left aims at being the answer to the policy of permanent austerity; a policy which sets off economic insecurity in tandem with the risk of unemployment, social exclusion, and poverty.

In particular, the candidacy of the leader of the main opposition in Greece symbolizes recognition of the unjust sacrifices made by the Greek people. It also symbolizes solidarity of all the peoples in Europe’s South. The people that are suffering the catastrophic social consequences of the Memoranda of austerity and recession.

The message that the European Left aspires to send with my candidacy is that the strategy of austerity can be defeated; that the alternative political plan of the Left to refound Europe and give prominence to real democracy, in contrast to the current neoliberal architecture of the European Union, could pave the way for the unity of peoples and workers and thereby block the emergence of nationalism, chauvinism and the extreme right.  At the same time that the extreme right and nazism are marching in Europe, there are political forces which pretend not to have knowledge of European history – and, in particular, of German history under Chancellor Heinrich Brüning. They insist on the failed policies of austerity and poverty, which fuel populism and nazism. But their dangerous and myopic expediency spells the hour of the Left. When the wheel of history turns back, this is our own moment to move Europe forward.

Why did you accept to be a candidate at a time when you have increased responsibilities and commitments in Greece and the possibility of parliamentary elections in your country appears almost on a monthly basis?

Because, in essence, the two positions of the leader of opposition in Greece and candidate of the European Left for President of the European Commission are not only complementary but, also, mutually reinforcing. Problems are best tackled only at their actual level.  A Eurozone member-state’s overindebtedness and exclusion from the markets might appear on the surface to be a national issue. However, it is also a European issue. It is connected with the Eurozone’s structure and operation, because the single currency transforms the national into European. 

In that respect, the content of the solutions which might or might not be given at the European level determines the macroeconomic course and the standard of living in each member-state. So far, the management of the Eurozone debt crisis has escalated, recycled and prolonged the initial problem, keeping alive the risk that the crisis will be revived. The current policy is the policy of the crisis – it is not the policy of the solution of the crisis.

Furthermore – and this is particularly important – because the choice of my person for this candidacy is  both an honor to me and an honor to the Greek people. It is an act of political solidarity to the Greek people by the European Left.

It is, also, an act of moral, political and ideological vindication for our party – SYRIZA.

  • Moral, since it recognizes SYRIZA’s important contribution to developments in the European left.
  • Political, since it raises a point that SYRIZA has been supporting from the outset of the crisis: that the crisis  is not the result of free-riding behavior by the “lazy Greeks”, nor is it a Greek “special case”. It is a crisis which is European in nature. And, for that reason, we need to build a common front against the political forces of “Merkelism” – particularly at this point that Europe is at a crossroads.
  • Ideological, since, in its founding declaration, SYRIZA has set Europe as the terrain of political and class struggle.

On numerous occasions you have talked about the need to forge an alliance or even a front for Southern Europe to claim for your countries advantageous fiscal solutions from Northern Europe. How would you, then, convince the citizens of those member states in north that you can defend their interests as well, that you could equally be their own representative?

I have repeatedly and systematically supported the position that we have to urgently overcome the North-South divide that the neoliberal management of the crisis has consolidated. It rendered “creditors” the member-states of the North with a 3A credit rating, and weakened even further the countries of the South, which suffer from the austerity policies that are inscribed in the so-called “Memoranda”, by rendering them “debtors”.

Both the Party of the European Left and SYRIZA, are fighting for an anti-austerity and anti-recession European movement; a solidarity movement among the working people of the North and the South, which would inspire and impose a European political pact for democracy, development and social justice.

Our proposal for the widest possible European alliance against austerity interlaces with the quintessence of the process of European integration, as epitomized by Jean Monnet – the architect of Europe’s union: “We are not forming coalition of states – we are uniting men”.

We juxtapose the solidarity of the young, the working people, the pensioners and the unemployed to the solidarity of the capital that the current neoliberal management of the crisis materializes.  It is only this solidarity, which could break through the dichotomy North-South, “le mur de l’ argent” to use a historical phrase that has become relevant once again.  A phrase that Édouard Herriot, the leader of the “Cartel des gauches” and Prime Minister of France in the beginning of the 1920s coined to decry the hostility both of the Bank of France, which was in the hands of “200 families” at the time, and the financial capital to his government’s economic and social reforms.

We want to demolish this new “mur de l’ argent”. This is the meaning of the choice of my candidacy by the Party of the European left: to reunite Europe and refound it on a democratic and progressive basis.

However, at the time that you declare your solidarity to the wage demands and social struggles of the working people in the north, you propose a ‘European Debt Conference’. The apparent goal of such a proposal is to have a “haircut” on the face value of your country’s – and perhaps of other overindebted countries’ – public debt. But this would be asking taxpayers in the eurozone north to put their hands into their pockets for your own sake. 

Nobody is asking the German or Dutch taxpayers to pay our own bill. The proposal that you mentioned does not imply loss of money. It, instead, implies cutting down on profits from the eurozone crisis. I could remind you of a recent publication by the Bertelsmann Foundation – a credible and not at all left-wing institution – which ascertains that: “Even if Germany and the other creditor countries have to write off a significant part of the loans which they have given to the highly indebted countries in southern Europe in the context of the various euro rescue measures, the advantages of the Monetary Union, at least as far as Germany is concerned, outweigh the disadvantages”. It further estimates Germany’s loss of income, without the euro, in the so-called “deutschmark scenario,” from this year to 2025 to almost €1.2 trillion or more than €14,000 per inhabitant.

Furthermore, last August, the magazine Der Spiegel made reference to data made available by the German Ministry of Finance to an SPD member of Parliament according to which “the crisis has only cost Germany a mere €599 million thus far”. Meanwhile, over the period 2010-2014, savings in interest payments from “a steep drop in yields due to strong demand from investors seeking a safe haven” will be €40.9 billion.

I would, therefore, tell you that, with our own proposal, taxpayers in Europe will not lose money. Quite to the contrary: they risk to lose – and rather a lot – if their governments defer inevitable solutions by hushing up the truth in view of a perceived gain in political time.  They will be asked to put their hands into their pockets as long as the austerity programmes fail, rendering necessary new loans, in a continuous vicious circle of austerity and recession.

Homeopathy does not work in the economy. You cannot tackle overindebtedness with more loans. That could blow us all up. We will be telling that truth all along the pre-electoral period.

Could you give us some of the basic political points of your candidacy? What electoral goal have you set?

We are optimistic that we will be the positive surprise of the May 25th 2014 election for the European Parliament. We want to imprint the Left on the conscience and preferences of the European citizens for what it actually is: the only alternative political force to neoliberalism. We are the main political force of change in Europe. We are the hope against the danger of entrapping people in the long-term recessionary austerity.

We support the immediate repeal of all Memoranda, the end of austerity and the coordinated reflation of all European economies.

We support the collective, credible and definite resolution of the Eurozone debt crisis, predicated on the 1953 London Conference for Germany’s debt.

We are working for a European economic and growth policy which would dwindle fascism and Nazism instead of dwindling democracy.

We want to be the necessary political countervailing power to a process of transforming Europe into the “dark Continent” as a result of the rise of the extreme right and fascism in the ruins of austerity, recession and poverty.

At the same time, we aim at being the political force which would alert the peoples of Europe against the danger of being entrapped in the introvert policies of national entrenchment.

We are cooperating with all the democratic and sensitive people regardless their ideology and political-party affiliation as well as with all the democratic political forces to repress xenophobia and nationalism and embolden democracy and peace.

Immigration policy is a case in point. The notorious 2003 Dublin II Regulation establishes a two-speed policy that could be encapsulated in the well-known British acronym “nimby” (“not in my own backyard”) for those EU member-states that are not points of entry of immigrants.

It confines immigrants to the EU-border member-states.

We reject the so-called “Fortress Europe” which only operates as a seeding ground for xenophobia, racism and fascism.

We are working for a Europe that will become an impregnable fortress to fascism. We are working for the necessary double European solidarity: external, with the viable support and developmental assistance to the countries of emigration and, internal, with the just allocation of immigrants across the EU.

We want to stress and make clear — beyond the borders of Greece– that the Left has the political vision and courage to build a wider social consensus on the programmatic goal to refound Europe on a democratic, social and ecological basis.

SYRIZA has proved in Greece that the Left can be a political force which can govern and not only a protest movement.; a political force that has the knowledge, the will and the capability to change ? citizen’s everyday life. We don’t want to assume the role of outraged onlookers – we want, instead, to be decisive protagonists.

If, at the end of the day, you don’t overcome the double electoral hurdle that the Christian democratic and social democratic candidates pose, would you vote, in a possible second round, for the social democrat – your friend, Mr Schultz – using as a criterion your political proximity?

As I have told you before, the candidacy of the Left is the alternative to the multicolor neoliberal block. That block is multicolor because it includes the liberals – apart from the Christian democratic and conservative parties that are housed in the European People’s Party.

 It also includes the — strategically perplexed– European socialdemocracy which, particularly in the aftermath of the Cold War, has played a leading part in breaking off the postwar social contract that it had undersigned. It has been fully integrated into the neoliberal hegemony; all the more, since it actually cooperates in the imposition of the policy of “internal devaluation” in Greece and the entire Eurozone South, through the successive Memoranda. 

The Social Democrats are perplexed in the wake of the catastrophic failure of that policy. They now face the clear strategic dilemma: will they continue their integration into the neoliberal strategy – a choice which, in the case of Greece resulted in completely breaking off their  bonds with the social forces  that they had traditionally represented – or will they — at last– decide to change strategy? Will they  seek the popular vote to govern in alliance with the right on the basis of  a neoliberal program  or will they  change political direction and work for an alliance with the radical Left?

I believe that  this is an interesting political question for all of us.

But to answer your question directly: If, at the end of the day, another candidacy prevails, I am not the proper person to decide for the position of the Party of the European Left. It is, instead, the MEPs of our Group in the European Parliament – of the GUE/NGL, who will vote. In any case, my conjecture is that a defining element of their choice would be the programmatic commitments and guarantees of a candidate – and not his/her political title.  

Today and tomorrow (25th and 26th of November) the Conference of Presidents of the political groups in the European Parliament will be held in Athens in view of the incoming Greek Presidency of the European Union. What is your opinion on the level of preparation of Greece?

On July 18, SYRIZA requested and was granted an official briefing on this  matter by the Foreign Ministry. They briefed us  “on time”. And they disappointed us “on time”.

In any case, it would have been absurd for someone to believe that a government which cannot take or influence decisions in its own country could do that for the entire Europe.

The Directorate of the lenders of the North will be deciding and the Samaras-Venizelos government will be presiding by carrying their decisions out.

This explains why, almost a month prior to the Greek presidency semester, the presiding country has failed to specify both its specific political benchmark and the concrete legislative initiatives that describe it.

The Samaras government downgrades an institutional achievement of the relatively smaller EU member-states, namely, the rotating EU Presidency, to a Presidency of “old-fashioned party-politics parochialism”, focused on photo opportunities and diplomatic amenities for domestic pre-electoral consumption.

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