Cultures of excessive debt in the EU need to change into cultures of stability, says Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a member of the European Parliament, who spoke with DW about the election results in France and Greece.
Alexander Graf Lambsdorff is the Foreign Affairs Spokesman for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) fraction in the European Parliament.
DW: France's new president wants to ease up the euro zone's austerity measures, and voters also punished both Greek parties in the interim government who support the austerity package. Should the European Union be worried?
Alexander Graf Lambsdorff: In the EU, people really need to be concerned if change doesn't come: away from a culture of excessive state debt to a culture of balanced budgets, which we could also call a culture of stability. Irresponsible financial politics led us into this crisis. And we will only come out of it by way of a culture of stability. I'm optimistic that Francois Hollande will look at the facts and numbers and come to the same conclusion. I'm not as optimistic when it comes to the situation in Greece.
Angela Merkel defends a strict austerity course for the euro zone. Have the results in France and Greece rendered her position more difficult at the European level?
I do not think that the chancellor and the federal government are in a tight corner. However, it is necessary to explain how important stability is, and Germany is trying to make such a culture feasible for Europe. I am certain that the dialogue with Francois Hollande will be very close and in good faith. He already telephoned with the chancellor on Sunday. But I am also of the opinion that this dialogue will have to be continued with other countries in the European Union who still believe that the politics of excessive state debts can be continued. That will not work.
You mentioned a first conversation between Hollande and Merke. Merkel had offered rather open support for outgoing president Nicolas Sarkozy. How will that affect the bilateral relationship - also in terms of the EU?
As a member of the European Parliament, I welcome rather than criticize that certain political alliances exist across national boundaries. European conservatives are joined in a single party, the European People's Party. The same is true for the liberals and the social democrats. It would be nice if people in those parties would support each other in local campaigns. Incidentally, that's what the SPD party leader Sigmar Gabriel did in a joint interview with Mr. Hollande for the Süddeutsche Zeitung. But that was before the election. After the election, it's important to respect the country's decision and come together in constructive cooperation. It's really no different than in domestic politics, where campaigns are waged against one another before the coalition talks come, and the parties have to find common ground and common goals.
Turning to Greece, is the election result there a slap in the face for the EU? Apparently the Greeks do not want to accept the EU and the international community's conditions for help because they view the debt reduction measures as too harsh and coming just from abroad. Should the EU change its strategy on Greece?
No. I think the decisive thing is that the Greeks change their strategy on Greece. The downfall of that proud nation - in economic terms and in terms of the public financial situation - is a dramatic development. The social order is in danger, and the Greek community is under severe stress. I think that is what Greek voters expressed in this election. One thing is clear: If there is no seriousness in the Greek system and among Greek's elite about getting the country back on course, then it cannot remain the EU's job to set the country right. Of course there needs to be solidarity, and solidarity is there. Billions in credit has been issued. But the course of consolidation must continue, and it cannot be hoped that the EU will now become more lenient or negligent. That will certainly not be the case.
In establishing this level of seriousness, you believe the responsibility lies with Athens - and less with the EU?
Absolutely. Of course the Greeks have stressed that all decisions must be passed by the Greek Parliament. That was also true in the past. No one has forced Greece into anything - all moves were agreed to by a majority of its representatives in parliament. The really important question is what form the new government will take in Greece. Losses suffered by the conservatives and the socialists in favor of more extreme parties has made forming a government much more complicated. Once that process is finished and the power relations in parliament and the government are clearer, then the country can continue on a course of consolidating debt. It has no alternative because the situation is very dramatic.
The volume of media reporting on France and Greece suggests that national votes in Europe have gained in public interest. They are also followed more closely by fellow EU member states because of the consequences for the euro crisis and for other EU members. Has this strengthened European consciousness and public awareness?
You are absolutely right, and that is certainly the case. Of course it was unleashed by the debt crisis within the currency union, which bound all of the EU states even more closely together than before. In that respect, votes in EU member states - particularly in the euro zone, and Greece and France are in that zone - have consequences for other members. Whether it's the Netherlands, Finland, Slovakia or Germany. So the increased level of interest is logical, and it's also appropriate. Of course no one should be pleased about the crisis. But the increased interest and the recognition that we are interwoven and dependent upon one another can also be something to be glad about.
Interview: Ralf Bosen / gsw
Editor: Neil King