EU officials have praised Greece as it emerges from the biggest bailout in economic history. But is it a cause for celebration for the Greek people? DW put that question to EU Economy Commissioner Pierre Moscovici.
Deutsche Welle: The European Commission says this is a new chapter for Greece but it seems like for regular people in Greece it's more of the same – high unemployment, high taxes, bad pensions. Would you agree?
Pierre Moscovici: No, I wouldn't. I think that we are really opening a new chapter. The situation in Greece has already improved a lot, including unemployment, which has diminished from 27 percent to less than 20 percent. I know that is still high – much too high. But I think now the solid structures that we have built in Greece make this country capable of once again attracting investors to be competitive and to create a lot of jobs, and that's what I expect. Now the people in Greece will see that the efforts they've been making will bear fruit. Let's not be mistaken. It's not because there was austerity that there is a crisis in Greece. Rather, it was because of a terrible crisis that we needed to have more solid structures for economy and society in Greece.
But you've hinted in the past that maybe there was too much austerity. Is that the biggest mistake that the EU made? Something that should not be repeated, let's say, for Italy?
I think the biggest mistake is that we underestimated the depth of the crisis. We thought that the walls were solid when they were really very fragile. And yes, at some moments, we were too tough on austerity. But we finally found the right balance in the long term.
Too long a term perhaps?
We could have maybe found a better balance between solidarity and effort, but all in all I'm convinced that we made the right decisions and that it was the right track for Greece to reform, and for us to agree on a program totaling some €273 billion ($314 billion) – a program that proves we were on the side of the Greek people.
Some people say Italy is going to be the next Greece. Do you feel like the new Italian government is up to the task of preventing what happened in Greece from happening in Italy?
The situation is, of course, very different. Italy is a founding member of Europe. It's also been in the eurozone from the start.
That doesn't make Italy immune to such problems.
Italy is the third-largest country in the eurozone, and has the third-largest GDP in the eurozone. It's a very creative economy and the debt is mainly in the pocket of the Italian people. But we still need to be very careful about the level of public debt, which is around 130 percent. This has to be monitored and controlled. And this is why we'll have to have a serious talk about the Italian government's draft budget plan by October, and I'm ready to do that. That's a huge date coming up there.
But let me repeat the question. Do you think that the current Italian government is up to the task of preventing a catastrophe like the one we saw in Greece?
As with all Italian governments, they will find a way. They will muddle through, and the proof will be in the budget. I cannot judge based on programs or words. I will only judge based on the facts – facts and indexes and budgets.