Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Monday evening stressed that his government is “facing threats calmly”, ahead of a snap July 5 referendum he called over creditors’ last proposal to the Greek government.
Tsipras appeared during a nationally televised interview on Greek state television (ERT).
He criticized partners, as he said, for directing an ultimatum to the country, with Greek voters now called on to decide.
Moreover, he again reiterated his position for a “no” vote during the Sunday referendum. Greek citizens will be asked whether they approve, or don’t approve, of the last proposal presented to the Greek government by institutional creditors — the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
“We call on you to reject it with all the power of your soul,” Tsipras said, in a statement directed to voters. He also underlined that he believes the proposal by the Institutions is not viable.
In answer to questions by two ERT journalists, Tsipras also assessed that the goal of the Greek government is to use a “no” vote as a tool and leverage in its negotiating effort.
Moreover, he emphasized that the Greek people will survive without a bailout programme this week and will head to the polls on Sunday. “We’re not going to bury democracy in the land where it was born because a (bailout) programme ends,” he said.
In touching on the serious issue entailed with this week’s bank holiday, Tsipras said the development arose because the Institutions decided not to extend the bailout programme (it ends on June 30).
“I do not believe that they (Euro zone partners) will throw us out of the euro, and they won’t do this,” he said, adding that the cost of a possible “Grexit” would be huge.
At the same time, he insisted, as he said, on urging partners to “return to realism”, explaining that his government has covered creditors’ demands with equivalent revenue measures. While admitting that some of these measures may be recessionary, he nevertheless said his government accepted certain measures in a bid to reach an agreement.
“They (creditors) don’t want a collapse of the euro zone, they want the collapse of hope; they want to reduce the political capital of a government that promised to change things,” Tsipras said, responding to a question on why creditors constantly demanded new measures, as he said earlier.
“The Greek government does not want an exit or the breakup of the euro zone, but we will do whatever we can to ensure the survival of the Greek people,” he stressed.
“A people, a country doesn’t go bankrupt, banks go bankrupt”.
In answer to other questions, he said there was no other text presented at the last Eurogroup session, whereas another proposal was subsequently unveiled by the Institutions a day after the Greek government tabled the motion in Parliament to declare a referendum. He charged that this proposal, made after the referendum was announced, was different only on the points dealing with VAT rates for hotels.
At the time, the Greek premier said, the Commission proposal was not its own, but belonged to the IMF. He also said that during the entire period when negotiations were underway, the Institutions were not even in agreement amongst themselves.
Touching on the background behind his decision to announce a referendum, he said he briefed the Institutions over his government’s intent to hold the plebiscite on creditors’ proposal.
Asked about responses, he said they were “not negative”, and that discussions were held in a positive mood. He also disclosed that he requested the extension, while briefing them over the referendum. A rejection of the request by the Eurogroup on Saturday was a negative surprise, he noted.
Queried as to what the “next day” entailed if voters opted for a “yes” in the referendum, Tsipras said he will respect the popular decision and proceed towards turning it into law.
As per his own political future amid such a development, i.e. a “yes” vote, he responded that he is “an all-weather prime minister”.
Tsipras said people remained calm in the country, even in the face of the bank holiday and capital controls, after the ECB decision not to raise the ELA ceiling for Greek systemic banks.
Along those lines, he estimated that Greek banks will reopen within hours after the conclusion of the referendum.
He repeatedly emphasized that Greece’s volition is to remain in the euro zone, asking: “Who can cut Greece off from Europe? Greece is in the heart of Europe and will remain in the heart of Europe.”
In answer to questions referring to political opposition criticism, he said “we did what we promised”, pointing to what he said were very tough negotiations with creditors. When asked about his “Thessaloniki programme” for growth in the country, made while he was in the opposition in 2014, Tsipras said the programme is beginning to be implemented, “despite the fact that the government has a gun to its temple”.
He gave examples an installment plan for tax arrears and measures to deal with the “humanitarian crisis”.
“We’re amid conditions of an economic strangulation,” he stressed, in deflecting criticism that his government has not abolished an unpopular property tax (ENFIA) it has promised in the pre-election campaign, for instance.
In terms of other questions, he appeared open to the prospect of a debate with other political leaders.
Additionally, he provided political cover for FinMin Yanis Varoufakis, saying that had he lost confidence in the latter, Varoufakis would not be his minister today.
On the same issue, he said Varoufakis has been the target of attacks, accepting also that the latter may have made mistakes.
He disputed criticism that he placed his party above the country.
“If the people want a prime minister that is humiliated and shamed, let them select one; there are many (candidates), but I am not one of them.”
Finally, in a comment directed towards Greece’s partners, he said the country insists on a viable solution.
“Our differences in terms of fiscal matters are non-existent; in terms of other issues, they are very significant. If they provide us with a solution, even at the last minute, we’ll take it.”