You were until recently the Rector of the Athens University of Economics and Business, one of the historic Institutions of the country. In fact, during your term, you signed a cooperation agreement with OTE (Hellenic Telecommunications Organization). How can universities be connected with the economy? What is the model you have thought of?
Universities should meet the needs of the country and its citizens. This means that their role extends beyond the creation of new scientific knowledge and the training of their students on knowledge and skills. They should, also, equip young people with the philosophy of creativity as an essential element of individual and social progress. They should contribute to the utilization of research and innovation results, to the technological modernization and the strengthening of the productive fabric of the country. They should contribute to the development of healthy and socially responsible entrepreneurship.
Cooperation of universities with companies and organizations of the private and public sector for a mutual benefit should be encouraged and supported, not be criticized and ridiculed. As it is encouraged and supported in various ways in all those countries whose circle we want to be a part of. It is well known that, not only in countries like the USA or Britain but also in countries that are very close to us in terms of population and geographical features such as Israel, universities contribute decisively to technological development and innovation, to the creation of new products and services, to the creation of wealth, to employment. In fact, many companies in these countries – some of which have become multinational- were set up in universities.
The four pillars of values which have been adopted by the Athens University of Economics and Business (AUEB) during my tenure -Excellence, Innovation, Extroversion, Social Contribution- condense, I think, not only AUEB’s history, but also the direction in which higher education in Greece should move.
What is the proposal you make that could pull the country out of crisis? Is the “memorandum” policy enough to consolidate a climate of confidence in the economy?
The strategic proposal for overcoming the crisis can be summarized in the position that this is the responsibility, duty and obligation of the Greek society itself. Not of its “partners” and its “lenders”. In such an endeavor, the central guiding principle should be: “every Greek citizen should be compensated according to their effort, their contribution”. The reason is that, behind the technical and economic data, the real cause of the crisis is that we created, over a period of decades, a society where some people toiled and produced wealth while others enjoyed the privileges of it -while, at the same time they had the necessary ideological and political control. This means that we created a “system” of economic inefficiency and social injustice that led us into bankruptcy. The guiding principle I have just mentioned is opposite to those practices and values that bankrupted the country.
However, in order for such a guiding principle to be transformed into a specific policy, radical and painful -albeit absolutely necessary for the rescue of the country- measures are required, whose meaning the society should be mature enough and ready to understand, to accept and support. This entails the definitive weaning of the society from the demagogic populism of decades and its maturity, which constitutes the essence of the completion of the post dictatorship-postwar historical cycle.
Now, regarding your question on the consolidation of confidence in the Greek economy, I believe that, to that end, the economic policy needs to overpower the policies of a “memorandum”, persuading and explaining to the Greek people that the price of inaction is destruction. My views on the technical aspects of an economic policy of national salvation are both in paper form and online and can be found at my blog, gatsiosblog.gr.
Do you think that the investment climate will change if an agreement on the debt is reached in the coming months?
It will certainly be a positive development, but I do not believe that the change will be such as to wholly alter the image of our national economy in the eyes of potential investors, either foreign or domestic. In order to achieve something like that and attract investments much more is required, namely reforms. Reforms in the tax environment, in public administration, in the judicial system and the rule of law, everywhere that will make the country friendly to the investor and, generally, to the producer. It is clear, though, that in the present political situation we are not heading in that direction, but in the opposite.
It is obvious that you are cautious with your political moves. What ideal political party would make you feel confident to dynamically enter politics? What happened to the endeavor with Alekos Papadopoulos?
Further to what I said above, it is clear that a political move of the new era, of the new historical cycle, whose responsibility and objective is the national recovery, may in no case have the characteristics of the parties of the past and their savior-type and leader-centered structure, which addressed to society saying “vote for me and I will save you”. A political move of the new era should have made it clear that the national recovery is not the work of a sole political party or the state, but the product of a nationwide effort. In the same way, the organizational structure of such a political move cannot revolve around individual persons. Instead, it must be a product and an anchor of collective processes, but also of collective consciousness and action.
I suppose you are a supporter of the euro in the context of our common European perspective. Why would a national currency be disastrous for the country?
I have never said that a national currency would be disastrous for the country, regardless of circumstances and times, or that I am a supporter of the euro regardless of circumstances and times. To avoid entering complex theoretical discussions, what I have said is that when a country, which is a member of a monetary union (in our case Greece as a member of the eurozone), wishes to withdraw from it, some specific factors must exist, without which the withdrawal would lead to economic disaster. The most important of these factors is that the economy of that country must be in good condition, better than the average of the other economies of the monetary union, so that the new national currency introduced will be stable and will guarantee the balance of the various aspects of the actual economy.
In the case of Greece, this condition simply does not exist at all. In other words, with the economy being destroyed, without banks and with 25% unemployment rate, who will trust the new currency to make transactions in that? The country will become Zimbabwe in the blink of an eye and all actual transactions will be made in foreign currencies. As a result, there will be neither a fiscal nor a monetary policy, nothing at all. The state itself will dissolve. The mere idea of leaving the euro in the present circumstances is completely opportunistic and dangerously irresponsible.
In the case of a Brexit in June, is there a risk for the European Union to dissolve or for Germany to increase its domination? What are your predictions?
I do not believe that the EU or the eurozone will dissolve due to a possible Brexit. If we want to be realistic, we must acknowledge the fact that Britain has always been with half a foot outside the EU and that it will remain so, even if the referendum rejects Brexit. However, Germany’s domination is another issue. Contrary to what we think in Greece, because the Germans do not please us all the time, the EU’s problem is not that there is a German hegemony, but rather, that the Germans refuse to take the leading role corresponding to their GDP, their population and their historical role in the EU’s creation. They refuse to take it for several reasons, one of which is that they will need to dig deeper in their pockets and act as a steam engine of the European economy, as the USA did after the Second World War for the global economy. It is not unlikely, however, that, if there was a Brexit, Germany would be forced to change its position.
Is the famous “cutter” a tool that will put the Greek economy on a permanent monitoring or a “self-consciousness” mechanism that will set the limits we never formulated on our own?
The Greek economy will remain under supervision for a long time because of the contractual obligations undertaken, and regardless of whether or not the “cutter” exists. In case someone did not notice, the country is also under the constant supervision of the international markets, which have pushed it to the sidelines. The “cutter” exists and will continue to exist irrespective of it being institutionalized and independent from “Institutions” and “Memoranda”. That is, if the State exceeds its objective capacity for expenses, even if there is no “cutter”, where will the generous followers of statism find the extra money to give away? Since neither our “partners” lend us nor the markets? This is the real “cutter”.
I wonder, however, what kind of mentality these people possess when, even in the current circumstances, they are thinking how to achieve overspending and they stand against the “cutter” because they consider it an obstacle!
How much are politics and the market influenced by the omnipotence of statism? Are you in favor of downsizing the public sector and of dissolving some of its bodies? Are you able to reply directly to the question whether civil servants who do not provide operational services should be fired?
Ι am answering you directly: yes. And, to be honest, I do not understand this question, which is asked repeatedly. Greece has more than one million unemployed, where many of them, perhaps most, might not ever find another job in their lives. Why don’t you ask me something about them?
What do you think about the election of Kyriakos Mitsotakis as the new leader of New Democracy? Are you one of those who feel somewhat optimistic about the future of the center-right?
Mr. Mitsotakis is likeable as a person, especially if compared with some others, former leaders of his party. I believe, I want to believe that is, that he possesses noble aspirations and good intentions. The problem is that he is leading a party, which is the foundation of the patronage state, of statism and of the intellectual backwardness of the country. For the country’s benefit, however, I wish that Mr. Mitsotakis’ party, the conservatives , will manage to modernize itself in order to be able to participate and contribute to the effort towards national recovery, rectifying even slightly the damage it has caused.
Can the country be led only by one strong party or does it need extended coalitions with the participation of reformed forces? Are you one of those people that would be involved in a movement with such characteristics?
This question is too theoretical, but also a little untimely, I think. The matter is not about “summit” agreements between political representatives, who declare themselves as leftists, rightists, reformers or I do not know what else. And who, after all is said and done, I do not know if they actually “represent” something anymore. No, this is not the important thing. The important and crucial stake is, as I mentioned at the beginning of our interview, that the battle of ideas against the “old” is won within the society itself -not in party offices, taverns or cafes. The “old” which is fiercely struggling to survive through maintaining the “patronage” state and the “small” and “large” clienteles, even on the ruins of the country. The battle -and it is a tough battle, have no doubt about that- is for the society itself to change attitude and orientation towards its problems. All straight-thinking Greeks, we must work to this end. If this happens, then who and how will rule will come easily, as a natural fact.
I think the first important step that must be taken is that all of us who think in the same way and towards the same direction of a great change of our country, but are scattered and do not know each other, to build roads and procedures of getting to know each other and of mobilization.