Interview with Commissioner Pierre Moscovici to Athens Digest’s John Papageorgiou for Athens Municipal Radio
Due to the restricted time frame, it has become almost impossible to complete all of the pending reforms. So, in your opinion and as far as the European Commission is involved, is an agreement on the Katselis’ Law replacement and a commitment about the PPC’s units privatization enough for a positive decision by the Eurogroup on the next debt relief measures?
Moscovici: The post-programme surveillance report shows that a lot of action has been taken, that the progress made is very significant. And as you mentioned, there are two (issues) that need to be addressed: Divestment on lignite on the one hand, and also the protection of the primary residence, the amendment or change of the so-called Katselis Law. On those two points, we are not that far away. We are working together in a constructive spirit. I had a very positive meeting with Prime Minister Tsipras and also with Euclid Tsakalotos. I think this is doable with good will from both sides. We can make it and I’m hopeful we will make it. It’s in the interest of Greece: First, financially, because EUR 1 billion is a good thing to catch. And furthermore _ and maybe this is more important _ because you need to have a signal given to the markets, that this is a credible country with the long-lasting effort to reform the state and the situation in society.
You have repeatedly said that reforms agreed are of common benefit. So why the delays?
Moscovici: I think that we are basically on time. I know that these reforms are very (demanding) for the government, the parliament, the administration. It represents a lot of work. There can also be different versions from here or there. I think we have seen several proposals coming from the Greek government and we are making progress. It’s work in progress. We are not far away from the good version. We have little time, but it’s not something that is unusual. I hope we will make it as we always did, for the sake of Greece.
The enhanced surveillance report says that Greece must broaden its tax base. So, does the Commission fully support the implementation of the tax reform which has been legislated for next year?
Moscovici: I will concentrate on March 11. Next year is next year _ 2020 comes after 2019 and as far as I know there will be elections in this country. I don’t know exactly when but certainly during this year because it is the term of Alexis Tsipras’ mandate, so we will have a (later) occasion to discuss the future.
Greece has to submit a plan to face its “excessive imbalances” mentioned in the country’s report. And we are also expecting the CSR (Country Specific Recommendations) for Greece which will be financially co-supported by the EU. Out of your experience, what are the main crucial recommendations that should be definitely included in the CSR?
Moscovici: We identified some imbalance here in Greece, which is not a surprise. We also did so for Portugal and Cyprus after their exit of programme. When a country’s in a programme, we know that it suffers from a crisis. And for Greece we know that this crisis has been longer and deeper than anywhere else inside the EU and the Eurozone, And the challenges are quite simple: How to create jobs in this country. I participated this morning at an event with young people, students, some came from abroad, some from Greece. For both of them, they need to have a future in the country. They need to exploit all opportunities. This is why the reform effort must be pursued. At the same time you must create the capacity to attract investors and lead a pro-business policy so that the opportunities that this country creates can be seized by its own citizens (…) Greece was a huge beneficiary of structural reforms. We were also very attentive to the situation of Greece as a country welcoming refugees. Greece also benefited from the so-called Juncker plan that will be transformed into InvestEU. All the tools that the EU has built are available for helping Greece to recover fully.
According to recent polls in determinative countries like the country you know best: France, Germany, Italy and Spain, the synthesis of the new European Parliament doesn’t seem likely to be a promising one. Nevertheless, do you expect a pro-European majority, what alliances will emerge from it?
Moscovici: I’m conscious that there is a populist challenge, that there is a nationalist threat, that liberal democracy is under attack in Europe. But I am confident that there will be a pro-European majority In the next European Parliament. With the proportional system it is almost impossible for the populist to win. But this majority doesn’t need only to exist. First, it needs to be broad. That’s why I call on pro-European forces to campaign and to show their determination because it’s a necessity. And second, it’s not about the majority it’s about what to do with Europe. I think we need renewed, fresh ideas. The Europe that I like is a Europe which should, precisely, fight for democracy. The Europe I like is a Europe that should fight more for the environment and against climate change. The Europe that I like must protect its citizens, build a European defence, secure our borders. The Europe that I like is, first and foremost, and you know that in Greece more than everywhere, is a Europe that reduces inequalities that divide our societies so much. And this is why we do not only need to have a majority of pro-Europeans. We also need to have strong ideas for those who want a better Europe.
Do you think that Syriza is now closer to S&D? Has the radical left party of 2015 turned into a party closer to the Socialists?
Moscovici: It is up to Syriza to define itself. It is up to Syriza to say which political group in the future European Parliament they will belong to. Today, they are a bit in between, if I am well informed. They are member of the GUE/NGL which is the far-left party. But Alexis Tsipras, when he comes to Brussels for the European Council, he attends the summit organized by the European leaders from the PES. And I see him there, so they are somewhere in between. That proves that they have moved. It’s up to them to decide where to move in the future.
There are some pending issues about the banking union – for example the deposit insurance scheme. There is also a lot of talk about the EZ budget. Do you think that we may have an agreement on these issues before the elections?
Moscovici: The roadmap is set for June. We are working in the Eurogroup to make as much progress as possible. Frankly speaking, and on a personal note, I think that we should be more even ambitious in the future than the roadmap we have on the table. The Commission will make its best effort so that this is successful. But as a politician and somebody committed to the Eurozone, I think in the future we must come back to a Eurozone that it is better governed, with a finance minister, with a parliament, with a budget, a true dedicated budget creating convergence and fighting inequalities. So that’s not the end of the story.
As we are heading to a potential deadline in a few weeks, do you expect a Brexit with a deal, a no-deal Brexit or even … a no-Brexit?
Moscovici: Nobody knows. Now it’s what we call in basketball the money time because we are in the last 30 days. It’s up to the British side to decide their own fate. We will have three days which will be probably decisive, the 12th, 13th and 14th of March. They will have a first vote on this deal, maybe with some interpretation but basically this deal. You will have a second vote about a no-deal. And if these two votes are not successful, then you will have a third vote about the possible extension. And then if it is voted, finally, by the British Parliament, they will have to go back to Brussels to discuss the eventual extension: For how long, what for, for what purpose. So you see that there is still a lot of uncertainty The role of the European Commission, and especially mine as a customs commissioner, is to be prepared for all scenarios. But whatever is the choice, we must be ready. We of course prefer no Brexit to Brexit. We prefer Brexit with a deal to Brexit with no-deal. But we must be prepared even for a no-deal.