The President of the Hellenic Republic Prokopis Pavlopoulos in a CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour responded to the Brexit and the policy inconsistency in Europe by suggesting that Union cannot exist operating at two different speeds and with multiple faces.
“Europe will exist with one face, one speed, or it won’t exist at all. Europe cannot be like Janus – to remind you the ancient tradition of the Romans. If Europe becomes a Janus, it will just be a loose union of states but then it will have failed to defend the reasons for which it was created. I remind you why Europe was created: So that we don’t relive the nightmares of the Second World War. And this presupposes a Europe where there’s solidarity and equality,” Pavlopoulos said.
“We must defend this and we cannot do that with two gears. You cannot be a little or very European. Either you’re European or you’re not.”
Amanpour asked the President about the rising popularity of extreme right parties and responded by saying although anxious about protecting the quality of democracy on a daily basis, he does not feel threatened.
“I’m not afraid in the sense of being a ‘coward’ about what I have to do. But I am anxious for Democracy, meaning that unless you protect Democracy daily, Democracy is threatened. I have said it before, it is a fragile good and is in need of protection because it is a component of our culture,” he said.
“I anxiously watch the rise of extremist parties reminiscent of the nightmares of Fascism and Nazism and we must seek the causes. It is not enough to observe the phenomenon.”
Asked on what he believed are the biggest threats to modern-day democracies, Pavlopoulos named inequalities, wars and terrorism.
“The biggest challenge of our times in my view, not just for Greece, but for Europe and the world, is to combat inequality. We are experiencing an economic policy that widens inequality, weakens the welfare state and creates conditions for the rupture of the social fabric. This is what facilitates the forces of populism, and even more so, allows the forces of fascism and Nazism that are hostile to Democracy to survive,” he said.
“But there is another reason: It is the wars that create refugees and racist views that attempt to suggest that the crisis is due to the refugees. Therefore, our world, our culture, our democracy must defend Man against inequality, on the one side. And on the other, we must defend the Man in the face of the refugees,” noted.
“Of course,” he added, “we must take all possible measures to combat terrorism. But we have to make a key distinction: Terrorism and the reasons that give birth to it is one thing; the man-refugee who must be protected is quite another. Because if we do not protect him, then I'm afraid we’re playing the game of all these extreme forces that conspire against Democracy.”
On the issue of immigration, Pavlopoulos said that the European Union took too long to act.
“It shouldn’t have been taken by surprise. Because the first signs were there. Europe had a very important framework it had introduced in 2008: The Pact on Migration and Asylum. So it had the ‘tools’. He could have easily seen the phenomenon was coming. Also, Europe should have intervened quickly to stop the war in Syria,” Pavlopoulos told Amanpour.
“It is extremely regrettable that it took the intervention of the US and later Russia, and much later of Europe. It was Europe’s work to do it. I told this to my counterparts early on, that it was Europe's duty to do it. Unfortunately, Europe has delayed in this matter and was taken aback by the refugee issue,” he noted and added that the EU should have protected human values and shown solidarity. “Unfortunately, other member-states do not have this mentality. They have to develop it. There’s no Europe without solidarity.”
When asked about the view expressed by Nobel Prize-winning U.S. economist Paul Krugman, that Greece might be better off it if exited the Eurozone, Pavlopoulos rejected the claim, saying that this would create huge economic problems to the country.
“I honestly disagree with him on this issue because, first, Greece outside the Eurozone would face huge economic problems. Once you’re inside the Eurozone you have to follow this road. You will try to be better, to make the Eurozone fairer. Have a common economic policy, common institutional bases. If you leave the Eurozone under these conditions, the dangers are much greater,” he said.
“I want to say that all those who thought that the Eurozone would remain unscathed after a Greek exit – or one of its members – are very wrong. Greece’s exit would create huge problems for the country but it would also create problems for the Eurozone. It would be like starting to unpick a sweater.”
Concerning the three bailout programs for Greece and why there are so many delays, the President said mistakes were made by both Greece and its lenders during these past six years which have resulted in a deep recession.
“Without underestimating our mistakes which are present, I want to note something I have told my counterparts: In Greece, some of the reforms were imposed too quickly. I will not use the word “aggressively”, maybe it’s not appropriate. However they were attempted too swiftly. You know, a nation, a society, needs some time to adjust to such reforms, many of which were included in the first and second memorandum and were not always in the right direction,” he noted.
“Let me remind you of the last report concerning the work of the IMF, where there was an admission that some reforms were in the wrong direction and particularly those that had a dramatic recessionary effect on the Greek economy. Therefore, without underestimating the mistakes and delays for which we are responsible, I want to stress to our partners that this rapid reform operation was not always the best option,” he added and mentioned the issue of the country’s debt.
“We have also waited a long time for them [the creditors] to fulfill their own obligations. Don’t forget that the issue of debt relief is a commitment dating from 2012. Unfortunately they have not started on this.”
Referring to his role as President of the Republic, Pavlopoulos said his job is not to review if there is a drop in the popularity of the government which happened to all the Greek governments during the economic crisis, but rather to work to exit the crisis. “It’s what I told you: This crisis creates the conditions for extreme forces to gain power,” he said, adding that he never believed he would see a party like Golden Dawn in parliament. “I couldn’t conceive it,” he exclaimed, and went on to express his admiration for German Chancellor Angela Merkel for her stance on migration.
“She remains in the path of a Europe of humanity, without considering the [political] cost. This is the essence. I will say it again and again: The real leader, who is worthy of the people and democracy, converses with history not with coincidence. This is the lesson we must embrace,” he noted.