Radical left SYRIZA was the big surprise of the elections in May in Greece. From a small opposition party with communist orientation, it has become the leading political force that is now striving to govern the country with a main opponent New Democracy. The representative of the European department of SYRIZA Yiannis Bournous spoke to Victoria Mindova about the programme and views of the left that can be the governing force of Greece tomorrow.
The results of the elections held on 6 May 2012 were extremely successful for SYRIZA. Did you expect that voters would vote so much confidence in the abilities of your party?
It seemed before the elections that our proposals for strengthening the leftist forces, rejecting the Memorandum of financial assistance and denying the austerity measures would find the support of people. For the first time, many more people listened to our proposals and agreed with our position. To be honest, we could not know for sure that we would become the second parliamentary force and win 17% of the vote. As you know, making the poll results public two weeks before the elections is banned in Greece. The data poll agencies gave us informally indicated that the support for us was growing. There were people more optimistic about the outcome of the elections among us, but the result can definitely be called an unprecedented success. Note that the left in Greece has not been the first opposition party and the second party in parliament since 1958.
From a small opposition party you are now the second largest party and it seems that after a month, you could be the first political force and the government of Greece. Are you ready for this responsibility?
The great joy of the results of recent elections is followed by great responsibilities now. The primary goal of the left is no longer to fight for certain demands as opposition. Our role is changing. This is evident from the fire opened at SYRIZA by both New Democracy and PASOK and their question of what SYRIZA will do if it wins the elections. People want to know what we can do as a main political force, not as opposition. Our main opponent in the election campaign by 17 July will be New Democracy. We know this very well. Greece is in its fifth year of recession as a result of the austerity measures in the past two years – this is happening for the first time in a country of democratic governance and the forecasts for the future are even worse.
What we are trying to do now is to work out in detail our main proposals and turn them into specific strategies to reform the politics of the country. For example, we say that we want to tax millionaires or those who hide their money overseas or have offshore companies and now, we are developing models of how to achieve it and what kind of taxation to use. In other words, we are developing models that will be applied in practice in order to guarantee revenues for the country, but from those who have what to give, rather than from those who have nothing to give. In the past two years, a rule was applied that subjected to additional taxes people with low and average incomes.
Measures have already been taken for the taxation of high profitable enterprises. For example, in the last two years, banks were paying a 5% extra tax on their profits in addition to their usual obligations. In your opinion how much could big business be burdened?
Let us start with the banks since you mentioned them. The Greek banking system has been speculating on the back of Greek citizens for many years now. Banks in the country borrow from the European Central Bank in Frankfurt at an interest rate of 1% and lend to the Greek State and citizens at an interest rate of 4%, 5% or even higher. This is a legal speculation. Beyond this, Greek banks have so far received over 200 billion euro in aid in various forms from the first Memorandum to be saved from bankruptcy.
Before we talk about the aid to banks, we should specify how you expect the banks to operate if they do not profit (the difference between the cost of borrowing from the European Central Bank and granting loans)?
We do not expect banks to operate with zero profit or at a loss. We are talking about social control of the financial system. So far, the bank policy has been to unilaterally determine the level of interest rates on consumer loans. We think it is quite possible to establish a state-controlled bank granting low-interest loans to people from lower social strata in order to boost the market. This will allow small companies and traders threatened with bankruptcy to access funds, create new jobs and things will improve. There is no other way out of recession than to secure money in the market.
So, you will not allow banks to operate at a loss.
No logic allows the banks to operate at a loss. Given that the state has so far allocated 200 billion euro to rescue banks, it should be now provided with ordinary shares with voting right. Thus, the state will have a crucial role in determining the level of interest in order to enable the market to revive. That is what the people want. We need to find a formula to revive the real economy.