S&D chief tells Greek progressives to rally against New Democracy ‘chaos’

Udo Bullmann: "I’m not a player in domestic politics in Greece. But as a European Social Democrat I cannot see any improvement if the government would switch toward New Democracy which has a major responsibility for running the country into chaos." [Sarantis Michalopoulos]

S&D President Udo Bullmann called on “progressive” political forces in Greece to join forces as the “way to the country’s future” and to keep distance from EPP-affiliated New Democracy, which he said has a big responsibility in the Greek financial crisis.

“I’m not a player in domestic politics in Greece. But as a European Social Democrat, I cannot see any improvement if the government would switch toward New Democracy which has a major responsibility for running the country into chaos,” S&D chief told EURACTIV, adding that this would not be a good option for the future.

EURACTIV asked Bullmann how he would see a progressive coalition in the country between the leftist Syriza, socialist Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) and the centrist Potami.

S&D-affiliated Pasok has been on power as well and also bears responsibility for the financial crisis. It went from being the largest party in 2009 with 44% of the vote to 4.7% in 2015.

Bullmann answered that the way to the future lies in a progressive government with progressive ideas.

“I would rather recommend that the way to the future should be the progressives making mutual use of their experiences of what went wrong and what well and join their forces to have a progressive idea of how to develop this wonderful country to the best fortune of their wonderful people,” the German Social Democrat emphasised.

Pasok and Potami are already party members of S&D while Syriza is part of the leftist GUE-NGL group. However, Greek Premier Alexis Tsipras has close ties with the European Socialist leaders, who publicly backed the country during the crisis, and he is regularly invited as an observer at their summits.

The country is expected to exit the bailout after eight years of austerity-driven policies and the discussion about the future political landscape has heated up in Athens.

Pasok and Potami recently formed the “Movement for Change”, which aims at representing the center-left pole in Greek politics. Once a key player in Greek politics, Potami (The Riover) was founded in 2014 and obtained 6.1% in the 2015 vote.

Pasok politicians are divided over a potential cooperation with Syriza. Some oppose aligning with Syriza and are closer to New Democracy while others openly back future cooperation.

For instance, Yannis Ragousis, a former Pasok minister and candidate for the presidency of the “Movement for Change”, pleaded for cooperation with Syriza as a matter of life and death.

“As a Movement for Change, we will return to the progressive structure and be born again, or we will die forever. Any new government cooperation with New Democracy will betray the progressive movement and be a proof of dependence on the oligarchy, with which New Democracy is identified,” Ragousis hammered out.

There are also divisions regarding the date of the national election.

The largest opposition force New Democracy calls for an early election and Pasok’s leader Fofi Gennimata is on the same line. On the other hand, Potami leader Stavros Theodorakis is against such a scenario, claiming that the government should end its mandate which normally expires in October 2019.

In the meantime, Syriza made it clear it plans to complete its 4-year mandate and would be open to cooperation with other parties, although it was still too early to say which.

Syriza sources told EURACTIV that the party was open to any cooperation with democratic forces that promote similar projects for the benefit of the country, even on an ad hoc basis like for the constitutional review.

“But it is too early to say anything else,” the sources added.

The same sources explained that as a first condition Pasok needs to make it plain that its cooperation with New Democracy belongs to the past as well as the neoliberal austerity policies the two forces jointly promoted “against the Greek people”.

“And of course, Pasok needs to realise that the cooperation with both Syriza and New Democracy is not possible,” the Syriza sources underlined.

Fair reforms for a new economy

Bullmann also expressed his optimism about Greece’s exit from the bailout saying that this issue is dear to his heart.

“I have been following the Greek case from the very beginning and I have always been too critical of the abuse of power of the elites in Greece to betray their people […] but I was similarly critical against the Troika about missing the point,” he noted.

The German SPD politician claimed that Troika, a “non-legitimised and non-democratic entity”, forced things in the programme to be applied on Greek people.

“These things were not justified and were not tackling the real problems.”

“Why not insisting on a tax reform? Why not insisting on the rich people paying appropriate taxes? Why the condition is always cutting pensions, wages, and after realise that the economy was getting into trouble because people did not have the purchasing power anymore? This concept is not realistic for me,” Bullmann emphasised.

He also strongly criticised the German former finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU) and accused him of irresponsibility and “analphabetism” regarding the situation in Greece.

“I could never understand why a German finance minister, who is really knowledgeable about Europe, saying in 2015 ‘please get out of the euro’ risking the total collapse of the economy and the society.”

Contrary to the positions of the CDU politician in the most dramatic episodes of the Greek crisis, German social democrats have insisted that Greece should stay in the euro.

German foreign minister: Greece should stay in eurozone

Germany should do all it can to keep Greece in the eurozone, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said in an interview on Tuesday (21 February), amid renewed tensions between Athens and its international creditors over its bailout programme.

Bullmann added that there are still a lot of things to be done in Greece and he insisted on fair reforms, which would not cut further the income of poor families.

“I am talking about fair structural reforms in the sense of a fair and just society […] reforms that give a progressive momentum for a new economy,” he concluded.

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