In an apparent attempt to revise his role in the Greek economic crisis when he was finance minister, PASOK Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos has claimed that the country’s international lenders in 2011 offered a chance for an exit from the Eurozone but that it was boldly rejected, forcing him to double property taxes and put the assessments in utility bills after he had vowed not to do so.
At the party’s sparsely-attended congress, which drew a mere 4,000 people to the Peace and Friendship Stadium in Piraeus, Venizelos said Greece was given the option of a “velvet exit” from the euro almost two years ago but that he told the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) that he wouldn’t accept it.
“The issue that led to the clash with the troika at the end of August 2011 was that we could not accept anymore measures that would blindly feed the recession and unemployment,” said Venizelos. “Then we received proposals to receive funding so there would be a velvet exit from the euro. We rejected them,” he said, according to the newspaper Kathimerini.
He said his conflict with the Troika at the time that party leader George Papandreou was Prime Minister led to the unpopular increase in the property tax that the finance minister had to levy, although he said he didn’t want to do so. That helped drive down PASOK’s ratings in the polls to a record low.
The measure brought in a mere 2 billion euros, ($2.64 billion,) a smidgeon of the country’s crushing $460 billion debt but did nothing to halt Greece’s economic slide and created such protests, strikes and riots that it brought down the government. He said, however, that it made the Troika give Greece more time to make reforms that still haven’t been implemented.
Venizelos made the statements as he again proposed that his party, which is vanishing in support, merge with the tiny Democratic Left. The two now minor parties are partners in the coalition government led by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative party leader.
When Papandreou was elected in 2009, he won 44 percent of the vote. By the time he resigned in November of 2011 in the face of relentless protests against austerity, the party’s following had dwindled so much there were fears it would collapse. Under Venizelos, it has about 7 percent support while the Democratic Left has about 4 percent, just above the 3 percent threshold needed to enter Parliament.
The focus of Venizelos’s speech was on extending an invitation for cooperation to Democratic Left (DIMAR), which rejected the chance to take an active part in PASOK’s congress, which continues. DIMAR chief Fotis Kouvelis has rejected the idea as a grandstanding publicity stunt by Venizelos, although the PASOK chief said he believes Kouvelis may find it easier to work now with New Democracy, showing the tension in the government.
Neither Papandreou nor former PASOK party leader and former prime minister Costas Simitis attended the congress, but Venizelos said their absence was not significant, although the party that ruled Greece much of the past 40 years has continued to fade into near-oblivion for its support of pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker layoffs that are antithetical to its founding principles. Both PASOK and New Democracy have been blamed for creating the country’s crisis by hiring hundreds of thousands of needless workers for generations in return for votes.