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Greek Ambassador: ‘Profound Structural Reforms’ Necessary for Long-Term Recovery

February 13, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Protests flooded Athens over the weekend, escalating Monday in the wake of the Greek Parliament's approval of a new wave of austerity measures. Jeffrey Brown talks with Greece's ambassador to the United States, Vassilis Kaskarelis, about the protests, the bailout negotiations and the potential impact of the austerity plan.

JEFFREY BROWN: And joining us now is Greece’s ambassador to the United States, Vassilis Kaskarelis.

Welcome to you.

VASSILIS KASKARELIS, Greek ambassador to the United States: Thank you very much. And thank you for the invitation.

JEFFREY BROWN: We just saw some stunning pictures of rioting in the streets in Athens. Many people in your country seem unwilling to accept the austerity measures. How serious is this moment for your country?

VASSILIS KASKARELIS: The situation is quite serious.

But, on the other hand, there are extremists in every single country. And this deplorable acts were provoked yesterday by very small, but very well-organized groups of anarchists. The vast majority of Greek people were demonstrating peacefully yesterday in the streets of Athens, waiting for the outcome from the voting of the parliament.

So, of course, we do see on the screens, on the monitors the damages, fires, but this really on the ground is limited.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, the fear, of course, of many Greeks is that these austerity measures will make things worse, will lock Greece into a long-term economic gloom. Do you think that that could be avoided?

VASSILIS KASKARELIS: It can be avoided. And we are already negotiating this aspect of the problem with our partners in Brussels and the IMF.

And Brussels has already decided to put — to earmark for Greece some $30 billion for development. Consequently, if we manage to absorb the money and put it in — at work, I believe that the results could be positive and the situation would start to change as from next year.

At this point, what we have to do — and this is the most important — is to implement profound structural reforms.

JEFFREY BROWN: Are the people ready for that?

VASSILIS KASKARELIS: The people, I believe that they have digested already the fact that things have to change in Greece. And this is why, since we started these reforms in early 2010, and for the past two years, we have had, of course, some demonstrations in Greece, but most of them were peaceful and most of them were limited in size.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, at the same time, of course, you have European finance ministers already suggesting that even these measures may not be enough and using some rather tough talk about Greece as a — quote — “bottomless pit.”

You had the German finance minister, Schaeuble, saying, “Greek promises aren’t enough for us anymore.’

Are their demands valid, or does this begin to feel like the more you give, the more they keep asking for?

VASSILIS KASKARELIS: For the past two years, I’m reading on a daily basis statements from every minister of finance or every novelist or analysts all over the globe mentioning Greece and recommending what Greece has to do.

You have always to keep at the back of the mind when you listen to these statements that they also have the public opinion back home. They have to explain why they are giving this money to Greece, why they spend taxpayers’ money.

And, at this point, I would like to clarify that the money that we receive from our partners in Brussels and from the IMF is not free money. It’s not a bailout, as people used to call it. It’s a loan. And it’s a loan with a very high interest rate, actually higher than the rate that you can obtain in the market.

JEFFREY BROWN: But you talk about public opinion. Are you concerned about the level? Because you have strong resentment in Northern Europe, bailing out — what is seen as a bailout — of a profligate Greece. You have resentments now in Greece that we see daily about Germany and others sort of dictating to your government. It’s getting rather ugly.

And I wonder if you’re concerned about whether this can be healed.

VASSILIS KASKARELIS: Actually, I believe it can be healed. It’s a reaction that it was expected.

When you ask to people, to everyday people, ordinary people to change completely their lives, their planning, their family planning, and this in a matter of several months, but in a very short period of time, it’s something to expect that you have some reactions.

But the vast majority of Greek people have fully digested and understand the fact that we have to change. We have to change not the salaries or our way of life, but we have to change the structure of the state. We have to limit the government. We have to privatize state enterprises. We cannot go on like this.

JEFFREY BROWN: There are still many that fear, that think that even these measures and even this new money may not be enough, that there is still the possibility of a default by Greece.

Does your government think this is still a possibility?

VASSILIS KASKARELIS: I don’t believe so.

And I don’t believe so because the money that we received from the European Union and the IMF is quite enough to overcome the crisis. The point is if we will be able to implement the — all the measures that we have adopted and we adopted yesterday, I mean, with the new austerity measures package. And I believe that all political parties in Greece, I mean, major political parties in Greece, are ready to deliver.

JEFFREY BROWN: You think so?


JEFFREY BROWN: And, tomorrow, of course, you have European finance ministers.

VASSILIS KASKARELIS: Actually, on Wednesday.

JEFFREY BROWN: On Wednesday. I’m sorry.

VASSILIS KASKARELIS: Yes, the Eurogroup. We have the Eurogroup in Brussels. And the Eurogroup will decide for the new loan to Greece, for granting the new loan to Greece.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Ambassador Vassilis Kaskarelis, thank you very much.

VASSILIS KASKARELIS: Thank you very much.