Prepared by the #rbnews international teamBelow is an English-language summary of the transcripts of the meetings held on 13/05/2012 between the President of the Republic, Karolos Papoulias, and the leaders of all the political parties that were elected to parliament following the 06/05/2012 elections, in an attempt to form a coalition government. Papoulias first met with the leaders of the three largest parties (Nea Demokratia, SYRIZA and PASOK) and then proceeded to individual meetings with the leaders of the Independent Greeks, the Communist Party, Golden Dawn and Democratic Left.
The original minutes published by the presidency can be found here.
The original minutes published by the presidency can be found here.
Meeting with the leaders of Nea Demokratia (Antonis Samaras), SYRIZA (Alexis Tsipras) and PASOK (Evangelos Venizelos)
The President of the Republic Papoulias started the meeting by emphasizing the risks related to the absence of a functioning government due to the dire financial situation of the country and the risk of a run on the banks, which has already begun. He noted that he held talks with Van Rompuy and Schultz, who stated they were willing to help. He emphasized that he expected political leaders to form a coalition government: “The differences between your positions are small and negligible compared to what you owe to our homeland.”
He then summarized the positions of the three parties present in the meeting:
- Nea Demokratia want a government of national salvation on two conditions, namely 1. ensuring that the country remains in the eurozone, 2. renegotiating international agreements in order to amend them.
- SYRIZA want the country to remain in the eurozone and the whole framework and strategy of the memorandum to be renegotiated. (Tsipras later corrected it, saying that SYRIZA’s position is that the entire austerity strategy of the EU, which is centered on internal devaluation, has to be revised and changed radically.)
- PASOK want a government of national unity, with broad cooperation of all pro-European political forces.
He then put forward a letter on the state of the economy sent to him by lame-duck prime minister Lucas Papademos.
A first topic of discussion, raised by PASOK’s Venizelos, was the British-law bond that did not participate in the PSI and must be paid back by Wednesday 15 May, as well as the Eurogroup meeting on Monday 13 May, for which the lame-duck finance minister needs support since he doesn’t feel that he has legitimacy. All three leaders agreed to defer to Papademos on the bond issue. Tsipras however noted that a strategy to deal with this matter should have been drawn up a long time ago, and that his party would take a stand after Papademos has made a recommendation. Venizelos added that, having been involved in PSI negotiations, he personally believes that the bond should not be paid.
The meeting then proceeded to discuss the matter at hand: the possibility to form a coalition government.
Samaras began his intervention by saying: “[Papademos’s] letter shows that we must form a government at all costs.” Options Nea Demokratia are willing to consider are:
- To withdraw from power and give other parties a vote of tolerance provided that they commit to do what it takes to keep the country in the eurozone, or
- To form a government with SYRIZA, PASOK, Democratic Left and possibly Independent Greeks, or
- To form a government with PASOK & Democratic Left, with a vote of tolerance from SYRIZA. Samaras emphasized that he understands a vote of tolerance to be a long-time commitment until the European elections of 2014.
Samaras concluded: “Every one of us has to make concessions, the Greek people gave us a mandate to work together.”
Tsipras interpreted Samaras’s intervention together with statements by Venizelos one day earlier as meaning that there is already an agreement between Nea Demokratia, PASOK and Democratic Left to form a two-year government with a mandate to implement the memorandum policies (with possibly some amendments) to keep the country in the eurozone. He emphasized that Nea Demokratia, PASOK and Democratic Left have a total of 168 MPs, meaning they can secure a vote of confidence in parliament. Tsipras proceeded to say that it doesn’t make sense to seek to include in such a coalition a party who has a different agenda altogether, summarized in the four key points he stated in his letter sent to European institutions:
- The popular vote shows that the memorandum has no legitimacy,
- The memorandum has failed not only politically but also economically,
- The entire strategy of austerity and internal devaluation must be radically changed at the European level,
- The policies enforced in Greece may lead the country to a humanitarian crisis and destabilize the EU as a whole.
“Our duty towards the motherland is to secure sovereignty, respect the Constitution, and attend to the security of citizens, their prosperity and their standard of living. The implementation of the memorandum puts these things in danger”
He then stated clearly the position of SYRIZA: if a government can obtain a vote of confidence in parliament to continue enforcing memorandum policies, SYRIZA will take up its role as the Official Opposition. “If in your further meetings you find that forming such a government is not possible, we consider that the verdict of the people is not a national disaster… Machinations are a national disaster.”
Venizelos emphasized that PASOK was stating before the elections already that it is in favour of a coalition government, and asked for a government of national unity as soon as the election results were announced, in order to overcome the memorandum within three years. Options PASOK is willing to consider are:
- A government of national unity should include at least Nea Demokratia, PASOK, SYRIZA and Democratic Left.
- SYRIZA and Democratic Left could form a left-wing government with the support and/or tolerance of PASOK and Nea Demokratia.
- The name proposed for such a government varies from party to party (“national salvation” for Nea Demokratia, “national unity” or “coalition government” for PASOK, “ecumenical government” for Democratic Left) but all three parties agree that SYRIZA’s participation is a basic prerequisite for it to exist.
Venizelos then argued that as a larger party now in terms of share of the vote, SYRIZA has a larger responsibility and must participate in order to give the government legitimacy. “Our idea is not to establish SYRIZA as the Official Opposition. It’s to make it participate in a national effort in proportion to its responsibilities and the mandate it received from the Greek people.” He demanded that, if SYRIZA are not willing to give a coalition government a positive vote of confidence, they should give it a vote of tolerance (meaning being absent from the voting procedure.) He accused SYRIZA of seeking new elections to increase their share of the vote and stated that SYRIZA’s positions are the same as PASOK’s.
Venizelos concluded by repeating that SYRIZA should participate in a coalition government or give it a vote of tolerance, and that if they decline to do so, they will shoulder the responsibility for taking the country to new elections.
This initial discussion was followed by a second round of interventions.
Samaras repeated that this is the time for everyone to take their responsibilities and raised four points:
- The fact that €1M from the latest tranche was withheld, together with official statements that Greece will not receive any more money until the troika come to Athens, puts the country at risk of default.
- The change of mentality in Europe about austerity goes beyond the election of François Hollande in France; there is increased awareness of the need for growth.
- He too wanted a majority in the elections to avoid this situation, but reality is here now. He accuses Tsipras of “asking for the impossible.
- He accused SYRIZA of causing “insurmountable problems” by refusing not only to participate in a government with the other three parties but also to at least give them a vote of tolerance.
Tsipras clearly rejected the pressure: “What is asked of SYRIZA is not to participate in a government in order to secure a vote of confidence, but in order to create the conditions for social consensus for a set of policies about which we clearly expressed our disagreement before the elections… [Should we accept], this would lead [again] to the disharmony of enforced policies and popular will.” He added that if Samaras, Venizelos and Kouvelis can govern in compliance with the people’s will, SYRIZA will salute such an achievement, but emphasized the importance of having both a government and an opposition in a democracy. He noted that Venizelos said the previous set of policies is illegitimate, but has given no guarantees that these policies would not continue to be enforced. He denied that SYRIZA’s position is based on opinion polls and repeated that he is bound by the mandate given to him by voters.
Tsipras also challenged the concept of a “vote of tolerance”, stating that it’s unheard of that a party who was voted in parliament by a large number of citizens would abstain from the vote of confidence for a new government. He questioned the constitutionality of a major party choosing to be absent from parliament on the day of a vote of confidence and stated clearly that SYRIZA will not only be present at the vote of confidence vote but will also actively oppose any government that seeks to continue enforcing the memorandum.
Venizelos repeated at this stage that the three leaders seem to agree on pretty much everything. He emphasized the need for substantive, social, democratic legitimacy, not only formal legitimacy, for a government, and proceeded to explain that Nea Demokratia, PASOK and Dempcratic Left do not claim to secure a vote of confidence with their 168 MPs, they are only expressing their willingness to cooperate in a government coalition provided that SYRIZA participates too. Venizelos repeats that the proposed coalition does not want to enforce the memorandum policies and as such needs SYRIZA’s support in negotiations with the EU. He further said that that upcoming policy decisions to be taken would be easier because the PSI is a success and Greece received large amounts of funding, and that forming a government is necessary to save the economy. Her added that, if SYRIZA choose to push for nerw elections, they’re responsible for whatever will happen in-between. “What will happen after new elections? Will SYRIZA govern alone? Will it cobble together a left-wing government? Will we form a government all together with someone else in the driver’s seat? Is this what it is about?”
Venizelos then engaged in lengthy explanations to say that, by combining articles 37 and 84 of the Constitution, a government can secure a vote of confidence with as little as 120 votes (instead of 151 in a parliament of 300) if MPs are absent and 120 is the majority of those present. The legitimacy of such a vote was challenged by Tsipras, who reminded that there has never been a government supported by less than 151 MPs since 1975. This discussion was cut off by President Papoulias: “We’re not going to have a lesson of constitutional law for first-year university students here.”
Samaras tried again to convince Tsipras to accept to give a government a vote of tolerance, saying: “The people live off the political symbols we give them” and insisting that giving a vote of tolerance to a coalition government for a year to sort out the country would be a strong political symbol. At this point, Tsipras said that continuing the discussion was pointless and asked the president to proceed with meetings with other political leaders. Venizelos supported Tsipras’s position, saying that a lot of progress was made. Papoulias expressed disappointment that discussion didn’t make more progress but said he will continue trying: “We will finish this [consultation] tonight because time is not in our favour.”
Meeting with the leader of the Independent Greeks, Panos Kammenos
Papoulias opened the meeting by stating the urgent need for Greece to have a government in light of important international meetings, including Nato and the EU summit, which has also created concern among EU officials. He also handed Kammenos a brief (letter) prepared by the prime minister (Papademos) for the leaders of New Democracy, Syriza, and Pasok.
Kammenos replied that he would not take such letter into account given Papademos’s refusal to provide Parliament data about the Greek economy but that if its contents can be made public he would be happy to read it but would not consider himself bound by its confidential nature.
Papoulias asked for the letter back.
Kammenos said Greece was at an impasse and heading for bankruptcy and that Independent Greeks would work to protect the public and private property from Greece’s borrowers. Kammenos requested full briefings from the ministries of finance, foreign affairs, and defense, plus intelligence services, and said he had been information, such as the Blackrock report, by the central bank. He then outlined his party’s seven main points on which he seeks agreement in order to support a government:
- immediate declaration of an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around Greece;
- charter audit of Bank of Greece shareholders;
- appointment of committee to audit Greece’s debt since 1974;
- annul fiscal pact and loan agreements;
- revision of Art. 86 of the Constitution on ministerial responsibility;
- full briefing of parliament on actions taken by governments since 2009 and release of all documents, agreements, or secret protocols signed;
- exhaust all legal and political mechanisms for collecting German war reparations in full.
He also expressed his belief that parliament should be convened after it is sworn in so MPs can take a position on each of these seven issues. Kammenos also presented the president with an economic plan covering the next four years.
Asked by Papoulias whether he felt the need for Greece to have a government, Kammenos said yes, but one that serves the interests of Greece and not the interests of its lenders like the outgoing Papademos government. He said he would describe such government as “ecumenical”, with the participation of all parties—or at least those which believe that Greece must be governed with a national orientation.
Asked by Papoulias under which circumstances he would support such a government, Kammenos replied that it must guarantee Greece’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity and offer the country prospects. “We believe the memorandums, signed by an illegal government, cannot serve this.”
Papoulias then sought to clarify Kammenos position as seeking to overturn or annul the fiscal pact. Kammenos said he didn’t believe the memoranda to be official texts or even legitimaized. Papoulias objected to Kammenos’s characterization of the Papademos brief on the state of the economy as blackmail, to which Kammenos asked why it’s being kept secret from the Greek people. Papoulias said it was a briefing for the president but would convey to Papademos the demand that parliament and the Greek people be informed.
To Kammenos’s comments that briefiings were also required on the Nato summit, Thrace, and illegal migrants—issues critical for the Independent Greeks’ support of a national unity or coalition government—Papoulias replied these are issues for a government that might be formed in the coming days.
Papoulias said he would continue talks with party leaders but if these did not lead to a government, Greece would go to elections. Kammenos urged him to do whatever possible to avoid this so that Greece could have a “national” government. To Papoulias’ remark that this can only be achieved if everyone makes compromises, Kammenos said that it was impossible to know what is a compromise without having others’ proposals.
Meeting with the secretary general of the Communist Party, Aleka Papariga
President of Greece Mr Karolos Papoulias greeted General Secretary of the Communist Party Mrs Aleka Papariga by asking her to offer her appraisal of the political situation and the May 6 election results. Mrs Papariga said that she had expected that the exploratory mandates that had been given to the three leading parties would not lead to the formation of a coalition government since such a coalition cannot be formed after an election on the basis of agreeing on a mere 5 or 7 main conditions. She pointed out that there is no such thing as a limited responsibility government which can render clear how it might handle issues that have not been agreed upon in advance. She added that the process of the exploratory mandates became more of a spectacle than anything else, which allowed everyone involved to avoid taking responsibility for the coming elections which, she added, are unavoidable.
She offered no objection to the current government continuing its operation as a transitional government until the next election (making explicit mention to Minister for the Interior Mr Tasos Giannitsis) with the exception of ministers that need to be replaced by law. Mrs Papariga called attention to the issue of the renewal of the electoral registers asking that the issue be solved immediately (Note: the electoral registers should be renewed in order the following elections to be valid since there has been over a year since the last census, but due to budget cuts the Hellenic Statistical Authority has not been able to compile them on time). Moreover, she emphasized that the parliamentary seat distribution system should be made clear so that the names on ballots will be determined avoiding problems in the next elections.
Mr Papoulias then asked her to review a confidential document from Prime Minister Lucas Papademos regarding the economic situation of the country to which Mrs Papariga politely declined, stating she was aware that there is a real crisis and that she would not be able to use the document in any way.
Mr Papoulias related to her the seven conditions of Independent Greeks party leader Mr Panos Kammenos. Mrs Papariga said she was aware of the conditions but that there was no room for agreement.
She declined Communist Party participation in any government, whether ecumenical, of national unity or a government of ‘personalities’ in spite of its participation in a coalition government in the past, specifically in 1989, and added that circumstances were very different at the time when there was not as much at stake for the country.
Mrs Papariga mentioned that there is no collaboration with other European political parties in the works at the moment since the so-called wind of change that is sweeping Europe is “a lot of nonsense.” Relaxing the terms of the EU stability pact would not attack the root cause of the problem she added, as it would not cancel the repercussions of the memorandums on the people of Greece. She pointed out that change must be radical or else problems cannot be solved. By remaining in the opposition Mrs Papariga said, the Communist Party can help the people, something it cannot do by participating in a government. Finally, with regards to the Golden Dawn party, Mrs Papariga mentioned she has already asked the Greek people “to amend their vote with respect to Golden Dawn.”
Meeting with the leader of Golden Dawn, Nikolaos Michaloliakos
Papoulias greeted Mihaloliakos asking for his view of the situation and the prospect of new elections. Mihaloliakos said he didn’t believe elections would yield a solution as it seemed unlikely a majority government or coalition would emerge. He said he believes the only solution is a national government or ecumenical government with Parliament’s approval and led by a non-political figure with international stature who would be given free rein by the parties to implement its work and the will of the people has expressed on May 6.
Expressing the view that the elections rejected the fiscal pact, he said the percentage of the vote received by his party was too small for him to be a regulator of the situation even though its anti-memorandum stance was why people voted for him. He said there should be an immediate audit of the debt to see how it reached these figures. Mihaloliakos said Greece was the victim of an economic attack and that EU’s stance towards Greece is deeply hypocritical. Leaving the euro would be a Greek tragedy, he added, because Greece has no production.
In the event there are no new elections, a service government cannot accept Skopje’s entry into Nato and waive the Bucharest summit veto. The Greek state mist also take decisive measures against the illegal entry of migrants with sufficient guarding of borders and recourse to the EU and UN who have dumped this international problem on Greece. Mihaloliakos also called for immediate declaration of EEZ and drilling in areas with oil reserves. He also said parliament should revise the law on ministerial responsibility as abolishing it is not feasible at the moment.
Papoulias said Mihaloliakos had been quite specific but had a question as to how all he proposed would be implemented. Mihaloliakis said his 7% did not give him the right to be the regulator but that he would not support in any way a government that continues with the fiscal pact’s policies.
Meeting with the leader of the Democratic Left, Fotis Kouvelis
Papoulias opened the meeting by handing Kouvelis the prime minister’s brief on the economy.
Kouvelis replied by reiterating his public statement regarding the need for an ecumenical government that embodies the dual message of the May 6 elections—formation of an ecumenical government and the start of gradual disengagement from the fiscal pact. He said he was aware of the objections voiced to his proposal for an ecumenical government but he would persist in it believing it corresponded to the will of the people as well as the need for the country to not go to new elections.
Asked by Papoulias about the prospect of Syriza’s refusal to support this, Kouvelis said he considered Syriza’s participation in such a government as a given since it is the party that received the second highest number of votes. Without Syriza, such government would lack the requisite social and parliamentary support.
Papoulias broached the idea of a “government of personalities” as an alternative. Kouvelis, in turn, asked whether the president believed such a government would have the requisite support [implying that of the first three parties], to which Papoulias said he thought Messrs Venizelos and Samaras would support it and it could perhaps go ahead with Syriza’s tolerance.
Kouvelis reiterated his insistence on Syriza’s active support in either type of government which would effectively collapse the following day without the requisite parliamentary and social support. He then proceeded to describe the steps he envisaged an ecumenical government would take, beginning with immediate talks on amending certain terms of the fiscal pact such as seeking its extension, repealing the law lowering the basic wage, and introducing a growth element to the package. He added that labor relations needed to be restored, among issues to be addressed and that anyone who truly wished the country’s disengagement from the fiscal pact would join an ecumenical government.
Kouvelis said the members of an ecumenical government could be political persons who did not participate in the policies of the fiscal pact and loan agreement—not technocrats, but political persons.
Papoulias then asked Kouvelis to read the text [prime minister’s brief on the economy]. Kouvelis agreed that the data describes a dire situation. His request to keep the letter was declined as Papoulias said he could only show the letter.
Asked by Kouvelis if he would continue with a new round of talks, Papoulias said he would make a final effort although he did not harbor much hope as from his talks with Alexis Tsipras he doubted the Syriza leader would join an ecumenical government. He added that while Papademos predicted June would be a tragic month for Greece, it was unable to form a government; Papoulias said he could not bear this any more and did not know what might happen. The president said he would have to speak to the Greek people and outline the situation; beyond that he, too, would bear responsibility for whatever transpired.
Kouvelis repeated that any government without Syriza’s support would not be viable. Papoulias replied that given Syriza’s refusal, Greece would go to new elections if it manages to do so before becoming ruins. Kouvelis then outlined actions that could be taken by an ecumenical government, such as cracking down on the black economy. Papoulias agreed that all this could be done by an ecumenical government or government of personalities but unless such a government was formed, Greece was in danger of finding itself outside the Eurozone and maybe even outside Europe. He said he would address the Greek people to say he had made an effort to see if this tragedy could be dealt with together but he had not succeeded. He then rhetorically wondered if this was because of the obsession with partisan interests, ego, or inability to coexist in an ecumenical government.
Kouvelis expressed his willingness to return to any talks the president deemed fit. Papoulias said they all shared responsibility and hoped the talks could resume and head off the impending catastrophes.