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16 Μαΐ 2012

The meeting between the President of the Republic and political leaders on 14/05/2012

Below is an English-language summary of the transcript of the meeting held on 14/05/2012 between the President of the Republic, Karolos Papoulias, and the leaders of Nea Demokratia (Antonis Samaras), PASOK (Evangelos Venizelos) and Democratic Left (Fotis Kouvelis) in an attempt to form a coalition government. This meeting took place after talks held on 13/05/2012 failed to secure a majority coalition in parliament. SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras was invited to this meeting but refused to attend. 
The original minutes published on the presidency website can be found here.

President Papoulias opened the meeting noting two telephone conversations he had during the course of the day: 

  • A conversation with Barroso of the European Commission, who stated the EC's anxiety to see a government formed in Greece,
  • A conversation with the governor of the Central Bank of Greece Mr Provopoulos, who informed him that citizens had already withdrawn €700 million in deposits and that a panic run on the banks was a real possibility. 
President Papoulias then proceeded to put on the table a suggestion he had already discussed with Fotis Kouvelis: that a government of personalities be formed, for a minimum of 18 months, to manage pressing issues of the country.

Samaras intervened to say that, personalities or no personalities, the question of the parties supporting such a government remains the same. He blamed SYRIZA's refusal to participate in a government coalition for the impasse facing political leaders and repeated his previous proposals for government formation. He concluded by saying that if the president could put forward the name of a personality that the three parties represented in the meeting were willing to support together, Nea Demokratia would be open to participate in such a scheme. 

Venizelos agreed that such a scheme should be considered if the three parties present agreed to support it, but added that, in order for a government of personalities to have a stronger foundation, other parliamentary parties should be invited to participate as well or, if they decline active participation, to state formally their position in front of the president. He blamed the hubris and petty politicking of "another party" he didn't name and emphasized that PASOK is shouldering now a bigger responsibility that what it should in light of election results. He also insisted that the information communicated to party leaders by the president regarding the state of the economy should be communicated directly to the Greek people, not by party leaders but by prime minister Papademos and governor Provopoulos themselves. 

Kouvelis also summarized the steps his party had taken so far to contribute to the formation of a government coalition and described his vision for a ecumenical government, reiterating his position that the participation of SYRIZA is an absolute prerequisite to secure political as well as social legitimacy. He added that a government of personalities, in order to be functional, would have to fulfill the same requirements, namely broad support from all pro-European parties that want in one form or another to disengage from the memorandum. He concluded saying that a government of unelected personalities would need even more the support and participation of SYRIZA in order to have minimal legitimacy and therefore declined to participate in such a scheme. 

Samaras then referred to the letter sent to the president by Panos Kammenos, leader of the Independent Greeks, in which Kammenos examines scenarios for government formation and explains that his party would participate in a coalition if there is a real, direct threat to national security. He requested that President Papoulias invites Mr Kammenos to discuss the possibility of his participation and asked whether Kouvelis would be satisfied that a broader government base has been secured with Kammenos's participation. 

Venizelos noted the danger of the situation and explained that, while in principle he opposes the idea of technocrats in government given their lack of experience of politics, the situation calls for an exceptional solution. He reiterated his proposal that all political parties be invited to a meeting to discuss such a solution, including Tsipras and Kammenos as well as Papariga (Communist Party) and even possibly Michaloliakos (Golden Dawn). He also asked whether Kouvelis was insisting specifically on the participation of SYRIZA in any government scheme or if a broader base that could include Kammenos would be a satisfactory option for him. 

Kouvelis replied by saying that a government of personalities/technocrats is a failure of politics. He added that the absence of the second largest party in parliament, SYRIZA, from a government coalition would be in and of itself such a challenge to the legitimacy of any government that it would collapse, and reiterated his refusal to participate if SYRIZA didn't. 

Venizelos intervened to say that, while he agrees that the participation of SYRIZA is not only necessary but also SYRIZA's duty towards the country, he does not recognize SYRIZA as the indispensable kingmaker and is willing to support a government that does not include them. He added however that the issues was not only the behaviour of parties in parliament, but also outside parliament, and that parties such as SYRIZA, the Communist Party and Golden Dawn coudl stir up social opposition in addition to parliamentary opposition. He demanded once again that all parties be called to a meeting, if nothing else to be put in front of their responsibilities. 

Samaras agreed that the meeting should be called, first and foremost with Kammenos. Kouvelis reiterated his refusal to participate but agreed that he may reconsider his stance following a meeting with all political forces. Both stated that Golden Dawn's Michaloliakos should not be invited, to which Venizelos agreed. 

President Papoulias stated that the existence of social opposition is unavoidable given the positions of the Communist Party and SYRIZA, but that the three parties before him should at least come to a consensus to avoid new elections because they would bear a similar result and he would be confronted with the same difficulties in forming a government. 

Kouvelis replied that precisely because social conditions are unusual in Greece now, it is essential to have a government where all parties participate in order to generate social support. President Papoulias added that for social support to exist, government policy itself should address the people's needs and wants.

Venizelos intervened to say that thanks to the achievements of previous governments in reducing the deficit, it was easier for a government now to enforce policies friendlier to the public, provided a government was formed. He added that an important reason for an anti-memorandum party to participate in a government coalition is for the people to be sure that all possible policy options have been tried. Samaras added at this point that any further meeting of political leaders should take in consideration a key message of the electoral result, i.e. that the Greek people want to remain in the eurozone, or, as President Papoulias corrected, are European-oriented.  

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