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19 Μαΐ 2012

The meeting between the President of the Republic and political leaders on 15/05/2012

Below is an English-language summary of the transcript of the meeting held on 15/05/2012 between the President of the Republic, Karolos Papoulias, and the leaders of Nea Demokratia (Antonis Samaras), SYRIZA (Alexis Tsipras), PASOK (Evangelos Venizelos), Independent Greeks (Panos Kammenos) and Democratic Left (Fotis Kouvelis) in a last-ditch attempt to form a coalition government after the failure of consultations held on 13/05/2012 and 14/05/2012. The leader of the Communist Party (Aleka Papariga) declined to attend, while the leader of neo-nazi Golden Dawn (Nikolaos Michaloliakos) was not invited. 
The original transcript of the meeting as published by the presidency can be found here.

President Papoulias opened the meeting by stating that it would be the last attempt to form a government, barring which the country would go for new elections.

Samaras repeated that he was hoping a government could be formed due to the dangers posed by political instability to the country's dire economic situation and asked if the proposal submitted by Kammenos to the president, according to which Independent Greeks would agree to participate in a coalition on grounds of national security, stil stood. 

Tsipras repeated his party's position that the popular vote not only rejected but delegitimized the bailout policies, and that SYRIZA cannot participate in a government coalition with Nea Demokratia and PASOK, not only because of SYRIZA pre-electoral commitment not to but also because Samaras and Venizelos have not withdrawn their written pledge to the EU/ECB/IMF to pursue the implementation of the austerity programme even if elections are held. He added that with the MPs of Democratic Left, Nea Demokratia and PASOK could easily form a government (total 168 MPs) which would seek to amend the memorandum, while SYRIZA's position is that amendments are not sufficient. He stated again that, should such a government be formed, SYRIZA would play its role as the Official Opposition.He concluded by saying tha the fear-mongering about the state of the economy must stop, because it is causing even more damage to the economy: "It's unacceptable that Mrs Merkel and Mr Jucker go around publicly saying empty words about the exit of Greece from the eurozone and that some here reproduce these empty words continuously and irresponsibly."

Venizelos stated that PASOK's position is to do everything it can to contribute to finding a solution, despite being much weakened by the hammering it took in the elections, because "we consider that the Greek people, even though they didn't express themselves clearly and didn't offer an immediate solution with their vote, stated clearly however that they want stability, that the do not want new elections, that they want Greece to remain in the eurozone, that they want better living conditions and that they want positive growth rates as soon as possible."
He then said that Tsipras's statement shows two major contradictions and one dangerous misunderstanding: 

  • First contradiction: Tsipras blames PASOK and Nea Demokratia for enforcing the memorandum policies which he claims were delegitimized by the election results, yet demands that PASOK and Nea Demokratia form a government while SYRIZA remains in the opposition and Democratic Left, which also campaigned on an anti-bailout platform, should join forces with PASOK and Nea Demokratia. 
  • Second contradiction: Tsipras says his party rejects the memorandum outright, while his recent public statements revolve around reexamining the overall European policy framework and expressed clearly that he would not proceed with any unilateral moves with regards to the bailout agreements.
  • Misunderstanding: Tsipras says that some are fear-mongering, without specifying who they are, and he misunderstands the true meaning of what is being said at the European level about the possibility of a Greek exit. Furthermore, Tsipras seems to ignore the impact of this on the real economy.
Venizelos concluded by saying that PASOK is willing to support any government that has not only a majority in parliament, but "has legitimacy, has a mandate, has support, has a minimally reasonable amount of time ahead of it, has the possibility to do something good for the people and is the product of consensus and mobilization." If such a government cannot be formed, the blame belongs with Tsipras and the other political parties. 

Kammenos stated that the political positions of his party are clearly described in the 7-point plan of the Independent Greeks and the economic positions in the document "National Counter-Proposal". He said that Independent Greeks are willing to propose a comprehensive plan to exit the memorandum and to implement it if other parties are willing to give them a vote of confidence. He demanded that the Governor of the Central Bank produces a thorough evaluation of the impact of the policies enforced under the two bailout programmes to determine if they have failed. He then proceeded to list his 7 points, emphasizing that for each one a unity government is needed: 

  • Immediate declaration of Greece's Exclusive Economic Zone, 
  • Immediate audit and nationalization of the Central Bank of Greece, 
  • Establishment of a debt audit committee with a view to write off the odious debt, 
  • Denouncing both bailout agreements, 
  • Repelling article 86 of the constitution, which grants immunity to ministers, 
  • Making all information relevant to public affairs public, including secret agreements [at this point, there is some bickering with Venizelos regarding the total amount of the debt], 
  • Claiming back war reparations and loan repayments from World War II.
Kammenos proceeds to say that if all parties agree to this programme, Independent Greeks are willing to form a government if they can secure not only a confidence vote but also the support of 180 MPs [at this point, Venizelos interrupts him in disbelief: "Are you talking about a vote of confidence to yourself?"]

Kouvelis summarized the two solutions he offered so far to form a government: 

  • SYRIZA could form a coalition with Democratic Left, with support from PASOK and a vote of tolerance from Nea Demokratia, or
  • A ecumenical government supported by all pro-European parties, in which the participation of SYRIZA would be essential to secure maximum support in parliament and in society.
He emphasized that a broad-based ecumenical government could take immediate action and repel those laws that are most painful for the most vulenrable people in Greek society. He concluded saying that he had nothing further to add, because he does not see any other acceptable solution. 

Samaras said that he does not see how a broad agreement can be reached given the stances of Tsipras and Kouvelis, and notes that Kammenos said nothing about the "second scenario" described in his letter to the president. 

Tsipras noted that his under standing of Venizelos' speech is not that PASOK would not be able to form a government coalition with other parties, but wants to include SYRIZA in a government to neutralize it: "What you want from SYRIZA is not our participation in a government. What you want is to form a government without an opposition." He repeated that the memorandum was cancelled by the vote of the Greek people and by its own implementation and failure. He emphasized that the difference between SYRIZA's position and that of the other parties is whether government policy should be based on an immediate freeze of the entire memorandum, or if it should be designed and implemented within the framework of an amended memorandum. SYRIZA rejects the second option. He added that, should a government operate successfully in the framework of the second option, SYRIZA would salute it, and concluded saying that, given Kammenos's position, there is no possibility to form a broad-based government and that a caretaker government should be formed to take the country to new elections. 

Venizelos rejected Tsipras's accusation that he is talking with his sight fixed on upcoming repeat elections: "I speak here with my sight set on history (...) If we go, because of others, to new elections, we will tell the truth to the Greek people with all the strength of our arguments. We will not fear opening a front against irresponsible and dangerous positions." [Interruption by Tsipras: do you mean that last time you didn't tell the truth? - a few minutes of bickering]. He then said that Tsipras overstates the change of the balance of power in Europe, and that Kouvelis ignores the fact that PASOK as a member of the previous government coalition gave a long struggle to protect the most vulnerable and promote the idea of the need of a growth package. He then rejected Kammenos's proposal for government formation, because the immediate rejection of the memorandum package would be a unilateral move that would bring the country to disaster: "We will turn into Albania in the 1960s." He then answered at length on each one of Kammenos's 7 points: 
  • The EEZ has already been declared but bilateral agreements with neighbouring countries are necessary to establish its boundaries, 
  • Discussions to nationalize the Central Bank of Greece are under way, 
  • An audit of the state's financeswould be simple, since there effectively are only 2 loans: €70Bn of bonds held by private bondholders after the PSI operation and €150Bn from institutional partners, with €90Bn still to come. 
  • Article 86 of the Constitution does not need to be repelled because cases of corruption are not covered by ministers' immunity under the statute of limitations. 
  • Three are no secret deals to be investigated. 
  • The previous government already tried to obtain war reparations. 
Venizelos concluded that since a government led by the Independent Greeks was not acceptable, and since SYRIZA rejects the ecumenical coalition proposed by Democratic Left, not government can be formed and the country should go to fresh elections. 

Kammenos started by engaging in bickering with Samaras (and up to a point Venizelos and Kouvelis) about the existence of his leaked letter to the president, and added, addressing Samaras: "I understand that you do not want to discuss any proposals in any way. You want to be prime minister. You want to sit on that chair. We want the country to have a government." He accused Samaras of forging the letter and sending it to the president in his name. He said that given the circumstances no government could be formed. He expressed his concern about the upcoming NATO meeting, where the membership of FYROM is up for discussion, and requested that the caretaker government vetos this membership. He also requested that the austerity measures planned for May and June be frozen.He emphasized that rejecting the memorandum would not result in national bankruptcy, "because this is an internal bankruptcy anyway, the Greek people are bankrupt." He said that the haircut under the PSI terms did not really concern foreign lenders, but Greek insurance and pension funds which were "tricked" by the governor of the Central Bank into participating. He concluded that, if no proper coalition government could be formed, the option of a minority government supported by only 120 MPs (as opposed to a proper majority of 151) should be examined in order to reject the memorandum.

Kouvelis said that he saw no need to add anything to the conversation. 

Samaras asked the president to give an opinion about the leaked letter by Kammenos, causing another spat of bickering (in which among other things, Samaras asked Kammenos if the letter had been forged by the president, and Kammenos said he would have recourse to the judiciary). He concluded saying that there is no possibility to form a coalition government with an acceptable amount of time to design policy: "The Greek people will draw their own conclusions."

Tsipras agreed with Venizelos that this is a historical moment: "The elections' result as well as the proud stance of our people in the past two years give us a historical opportunity to overthrow the social misery imposed by the memorandum." He repeated that, while he was happy to see that even Venizelos agreed by now that the bailout could be renegotiated, he didn't see how that could happen as long as the written pledges submitted by PASOK and Nea Demokratia to Merkel were not retracted. He also repeated that renegotiation as understood by SYRIZA is not a renegotiation of the memorandum for Greece, but a renegotiation of European policy as a whole. He emphasized that the reason Samaras and Venizelos cannot form a government is that a coalition supporting the implementation of the memorandum wouldn't have political and social legitimacy. He noted that SYRIZA was happy to take its share of the responsibility for future developments, but not for the results of policies of the previous governments "who brought the country to its limits." He concluded noting commonalities with Kouvelis regarding the need to freeze further planned austerity measures. When asked by the president whether he would participate in a government who would set that as a basic prerequisite, he answered that it was obvious from the discussion that such a government could not be formed, but that if the president could bring others to agree to this option, he would consider it. 

Venizelos engaged in a legthy explanation as to why the terms of the memorandum cannot be rejected outright, saying chiefly that a basic source of state funds would be cut off if Greece breaches its agreements. He also highlighted his achievements in negotiating the PSI as Minister of Finance. He concluded by saying: "I don't see that we can agree here, because choices have been made which will bring us back to the same table after elections are held."

Kouvelis simply said that, should a ecumenical government be formed, all parties involved would have to sign a commitment to essential policy points which would be made public. 

Kammenos expressed his concern that, should memorandum policies be implemented, foreign lenders would be able to undermine Greece's national sovereignty and territorial integrity, e.g. by claiming agricultural land put up as collateral by indebted farmers. He caused yet another lengthy spat of bickering by using the word "forgery". This was followed by another round of bickering between Venizelos and Tsipras when Venizelos called Alavanos (the former leader of SYRIZA) Tsipras's mentor. Venizelos finally managed to say that territorial integrity was not an issue. 

Tsipras asked what had been decided with regards to the British-law bond which was due for repayment on that day. Venizelos explained that Papademos had decided to repay it given the situation, even though Venizelos himself was against paying it. Tsipras then asked how failing to repay that bond would not constitute default. Venizelos engaged here again in a long and winding explanation as to why it would not (noting that the vast majority of Eurogroup member states, with the exception of Germany, supported that the bond should not be paid.) There were a lot of interruptions and back-and-forth between Venizelos and Tsipras at this stage. 

The president closed the conversation by saying: "Gentlemen, this is over. I'm the one losing my temper now. This meeting is over." He expressed his disappointment at the failure to establish a government and called for another meeting on the next day at 1pm to form a caretaker government to lead the country to new elections. 

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