Calling of a Referendum

2011-11-01 - George Papandreu


"Dear Friends, dear Colleagues, after much discussion within the Movement and more broadly within the framework of a social dialogue, I took an initiative to take us forward. This initiative is the calling of a referendum.

For the first time after many years the people will give an opinion as to the course of this country. This initiative was not taken in a vacuum. The option of a referendum is both public knowledge, but was also discussed a number of times.

It is a basic pre-electoral principle, a basic position that both I and the party hold and when the Lisbon Treaty was submitted to Parliament for ratification it was on the agenda of the Cabinet and Parliament as a possible option.

It is a supreme democratic process provided for in our Constitution, and many democratic countries in the world and Europe have used it to enable their peoples to express themselves and to decide democratically.

Therefore I would like first and foremost to stress that any wild reactions are unacceptable that wish to undermine the right of the Greek people, on the basis of various danger mongering arguments that we run a risk if the Greek people express their. This logic stems from a very anti-democratic concept as to the maturity of people and their ability to take a decision on a serious major national issue.

We are a democratic Government and a party that demonstrates clearly how democratic it is by asking the opinion and decision of the Greek people.

The second issue is also a substantial one. We find ourselves at a very difficult juncture as a country and as a society. We have been struggling for two years ceaselessly in order not to fall into the abyss; we have struggled to convince our partners and lenders for a viable and smooth solution to be found.

We have come to the conclusion after a difficult path, through a morass of suspicious criticism, self-serving populism and hypocrisy from a large section of the political spectrum, to this extremely important historic decision of the last Summit.

Even after the Summit decision however, a large proportion of the political spectrum, along with vested interests, whom we know for years have wanted to dominate any power in our country, has undertaken every endeavour to dismantle this result. Moreover it has done everything it can to imbibe hatred into a part of the population in order to thwart the implementation of this programme.

It has wanted to create the feeling of chaos, as we have seen for example in the recent parades, where an effort was made to undermine and insult the institution of the President of the Republic.

I also remind you that until now, not one single political Leader has taken a position as to the essence of the agreement, not one political party has told the truth to the people, – that this agreement constitutes an enormous ‘window’ of opportunity for the country.

Instead of this, even though they want this agreement to be implemented, they hide behind their minority, causing dissolution everywhere and spreading nebulous and vacuous criticism.

We have succeeded in bringing to the country a favourable agreement for its future. We all recognise the difficulties of implementation and you know how we have toiled for this over the past few months. The problems of implementation have become obvious, even with the evaluations, which will continue into the 7th instalment, the 8th, the 9th – there will always be an evaluation.

I want to be clear on this: a decision was taken in a recent Cabinet meeting, and in Government Committees, and in individual discussions that these changes ahead of us now will be made with the Greek people, – that it should also participate and create.

We have taken a decision for the rule of law to prevail over lawlessness and this applies especially to large-scale interests and privileged parties. We also know that the next stage requires the broad support of the Greek people, of the conscientious civil servant, the trade unionist with a new creative role, the productive entrepreneur who does not seek to evade taxes.

This is something that concerns not only the State but also the citizen, mentalities, practises, the shaping of a society with cohesion and a common conviction as to the future, a new patriotic concept of a national conscience, a new commitment for the State, for its institutions, and as to the role we have, as to our position within the European Union.

This cannot be achieved simply by laws or by decrees, or by policing. This can only be achieved only by a broad understanding and participation of citizens – I am convinced of this.

This could have been achieved through a broad political consensus, even by a government of national unity or a government alliance, with a broad outlook, but with basic social and political goals.

This was attempted to no avail so far, not due to our disposition. I repeat this. Therefore our choice was a much clearer one. We either call national elections, or instigate another procedure to make the citizen a participant.

National elections would mean, dear colleagues, avoiding our responsibilities. It would allow a nebulous state to develop, with vague promises, and there would be an ambiguous mandate to the new government thus formed.

Apart from the damage and attrition of a new electoral campaign period, where everything would be called to a halt, we might also slide into the danger of bankruptcy. A Referendum is completely different from national elections, which require campaigning out in the constituencies with ministers absent from their posts, and where most likely the result would be a government unable to govern and implement what is necessary.

On the other hand, a referendum would be a clear mandate and a clear message within and outside of Greece, as to our future in Europe and our participation in the Euro, and making a clear decision on this.

Nobody then either in or outside Greece could then question Greece’s place within the Eurozone.

What has changed to cause this ‘rabid’ reaction from all the political parties and most of the mass media against this proposal, which should be discussed at least calmly and with sobriety? This should of course be in good faith, since any proposal or initiative has its pros and cons. But what has changed since the announcement of the Referendum for so much commotion to be unleashed?

It is obvious what has changed. First of all the new loan was agree, and some bankers are worried, some mass media are in huge debt and a search is underway in Switzerland. Those who placed their bets on a default of Greece have understood that they have lost their money, just like those who bet on a return to the drachma.

This and other things has changed.

Suddenly a referendum has become something awful and fearsome for them. The Opposition which believed that we would not make it in the Summit and hoped that we would fall from power now sees that by a Referendum it might find itself in a corner, because it is not making any positive contribution. They fear the people. They speak supposedly on behalf of the people, but fear the will of the people, because they do not accept the fact that citizens can decide for themselves.

Up to now they said the new agreement would be a catastrophe. Now they pretend to fear that with a referendum this agreement will not be implemented, which for them was a catastrophe! This is the supreme contradiction that everybody sees. They have not decided what they want even!

Perhaps our partners fear the Referendum? They were well aware of this option and they will respect and support the efforts of the country. But they are of course uneasy, and of course they would wish for things in Greece and Europe to be calm and simple. And of course they would not want any perturbation of the markets with the prospect of a referendum, but more so with possible elections.

But we must ultimately send out a message especially to the G20 that what we need is for policies to be decided upon which will ensure that Democracy prevails over any desires of the markets, and this is what I will tell them tomorrow.

For some time now we have spoken of the need for serious changes to the international financial system – for transparency, to tax havens, the CDS, derivatives, Rating Agencies, transaction tax, – some of these decisions, supposedly, were taken two years ago and others more recently, but nothing has been done.

There is huge tax evasion, not only in Switzerland, but elsewhere, and the international community does not have the courage to control the phenomenon in precisely that decisive manner with which it controls the budget of all Eurozone countries. It should audit in the same decisive way the bank, the bankers, the bank deposits of individuals in various tax havens.

This money has been stolen from nations, not only the Greek nation. In Greece too, unfortunately, there has been capital flight which of course creates great difficulties in any economic recovery or dealing with the nation’s debt.

What we are trying to do is to change society, to make the citizen a democratic participant. This is the historic challenge now, apart from saving the country from default, which we have almost fulfilled.

We also have our democratic principles, and as I said, we will not implement any programme by force, but only with the consensus of the Greek people. This is our democratic tradition and we demand this be respected abroad. It is my belief that it will be respected.

Already there have been expressions of support from Governments, but also from leaders of other socialist parties in this direction.

There will be a perturbation on the markets, but only temporarily. The approval of the new agreement on the basis of a referendum will be in Greece’s favour. Everybody will be mobilised to make the PSI a success, which means the participation of the private sector, because otherwise they too will lose out as they know full well.

The only ones who do not want the agreement to succeed and for Greece to default are those who are already bankrupt, who are trying to organise a new instability, who want chaos, as can be seen from their behaviour, such as for example, in their behaviour during the national parades.

The dilemma is not ‘this or that government’, but rather ‘yes or no to the agreement’, ‘yes or no to Europe’, ‘yes or no to the Euro’. Perhaps I should mention again the Government of National Salvation’ that I tried to achieve first? This is what the New Democracy and left-wing parties rejected. Now that they see that their plans have been foiled, they reveal their true selves, because they fear the people, but we do not.

What is it that the Greek people want? Are they asking simply for different people to take the seat of power? Or do they want more substantially for there to be radical change in policies, in order to deal with reactive vested interests which brought the country to this state, for which the Greeks are paying unjustly?

Our answer today must be that we are not yielding. Our answer today must be that we stand united front and seek a plebiscite unhampered.

The only thing that we and the Greek people want is the salvation of the nation. I am convinced that our citizens will express this by a positive decision as to the future of the country.

From tomorrow the debate begins in parliament on the vote of confidence. I have asked for this because I described a very specific framework of action. These are actions which are imperative for the country and the implementation of an agreement, a framework for major changes and reforms which we have undertaken to implement so that this historic opportunity is not left unexploited.

For this to happen however we need calm, sobriety, the support of society itself, and not misleading information. These three days will be an opportunity for every Minister to inform our citizens and Parliament as to our priorities, the programming and the schedule we have ahead of us.

As I said there are people who do not want this effort to proceed, who see citizens as clients, as hostages to middlemen and petty politics.

We must now reveal who it is that does not want citizens to speak out, who want truth and logic to be substituted for facile propaganda and fear. When we voted on difficult legislation in the past, when we were deciding our accession to the Support Mechanism, when we were voting on the Medium-Term programme, certain social minorities chose violence, provoking chaos and all this supposedly in the name of the people, whereas today they do not want citizens to make their voice heard. They react of course because they do not speak for the people, but on behalf of specific interests.

I would like to remind you that we have taken decisions, but ahead of us there are more decisions which need to be taken. My reference to reactions is not perchance, because even if some of them are genuine, there are however reactions instigated by organised forces.

We now demonstrate that we are serious when we speak of bank accountability and hold them responsible. For the first time we are moving towards transparency of the banking system which will invest in the real economy.

For the first time we are taking serious steps with arrests for fuel smuggling.

For the first time we are talking about bankrupt mass media, which continue to operate without anybody understanding where the money is coming from.

We are cleaning out the world of football for the first time.

We are publishing a list of tax evaders and chasing them up.

For the first time we are locating bank accounts abroad of tax evaders.

For the first time a Government is trying to clear out the stench of vested interests which, for years, have held sway. This is where there is most reaction.

We will not give up. We will fight. Since some are talking of government instability, I would like to remind you, as I did yesterday, how we must implement our task of dealing with immediate and vital duties in the interest of our country and citizens, and the intensive work we must undertake over the next few weeks.

I wish to stress our priorities for this historic success to ‘take root’, in other words to avert anything that could jeopardise it.

First of all, in negotiations with our partners, we will immediately clarify the contents of the new programme which will accompany the 100 billion euro loan. This will start immediately.

Much has been said of the banks and as to whether they will come to the negotiating table or not, due to the announcement of the referendum. I wish to stress here that they have already announced that they will be at the negotiating table. I believe we will achieve the best possible negotiation through the plebiscite also.

Secondly, as to the decision of the European Council, we have until the beginning of 2012 to hammer out the details fully to quantify debt reduction and interest payable as well as the burden on our citizens.

This is a vital duty that must be fulfilled. Then there are the prior actions we must take for the 6th instalment which you know full well – Mr. Venizelos has briefed you, and Mr. Sahinidis can clarify.

Our goal is to receive the 6th instalment within November, within the next few weeks therefore, so that there is substantial market liquidity created, which means we cannot slacken our pace over the next few days. We must move on decisively.

We also have decision on important issues as follows: the National Tax System by the end of the year, the 2012 budget, ratification of the legislative act to increase bank guarantees, as well as other direct legislative initiatives.

These are imperative. We also have major political priorities as I analysed yesterday. Since there is a long list of them I will ask the Secretariat to distribute the text so that you are all aware of them. These are the basic priorities as you know, and which we have discussed. By way of indication, I mention the ‘means test’ for all, the major bill of law on entrepreneurship, the issue of speeding up legal proceedings, the plan for the centre of Athens, etc.

Dear Colleagues, this is what we have ahead of us, together and individually. What I said yesterday is a step towards enabling us to proceed smoothly with this course.

It has unleashed panic, now intensified with the proposal of a referendum. So much fear lest citizens be allowed to express their will fairly and freely! Citizens should reflect upon why certain individuals do not want them to express their opinion.

We have said we will seek the opinion of citizens as to this supreme national choice. All these reactions are based on a common premise, their interests are affected and they want to deprive us of a major success. We will carry on with the priorities set. We will not be thwarted. Only political abnormality can remove us from this course.

This is why we stand united, rallied together and we will proceed. This is what we must demonstrate today. We have taken on a huge burden without being responsible for it. We have embittered our voters in order to save the country. Now that the burden is to be lifted from the citizens, now that a path has been opened up to rid us off all dependence, efforts are being made to stop us.

I also wish to say that there are forces already moving on the borderline of institutional derailment. You read the announcements of the New Democracy party, of Mrs. Bakoyianni, of the LAOS party, openly inciting their members of parliament not to give us a vote of confidence.

This is why we must all deal at this historic juncture with a sense of responsibility. We must deal with these efforts to provoke institutional chaos that some people are trying to achieve.

It is only with unity and with clarity of expression from us and from the Cabinet that we must move ahead.