Milan - Yiannis Milios may be the most influential economist in Greece right now. The National Technical University of Athens lecturer, also SYRIZA’s political economy advisor, is influential in practice because he, along with others, wrote the party’s election programme. He is part of the tight circle of five professors who advise Alexis Tsipras and is probably the closest to him. And the entirety of the programme, which so enraged Berlin and Brussels in recent weeks, bears his imprint. Renegotiation of the debt, revision of the memorandum of understanding with the Troika, the end of the austerity policies, stimulus programmes for growth and a welfare state are the crucial ingredients in his prescription. He has just returned from Berlin, a city that he knows well because he studied and received a doctorate in Germany. “But this time I only met with two journalists” he tells us by telephone from his office in Athens.
Professor, recently there have been openings, the latest from the Governor of Banque de France, towards an extension for Greece’s debt, or in other words, a renegotiation. Do you believe that the tones of the European-wide debate are softening?
“The propaganda that is being put out about Greece’s exit from the Euro is only useful for scaring people. No one believes in the so-called Grexit any more, nor in the catastrophic scenarios that have been described should the left win. In Europe, and in Berlin, they now understand that they need to talk to Syriza, which will form the next government, and this is improving the political situation. And this is good not only for us, but also for Europe.
Is there still a possibility of Greece leaving the euro?
“If a country, Greece, were made to leave the euro, the Euro Zone would collapse, because it would be transformed from a single-currency area into an area with a fixed exchanged rate, as in the 1990s. At that point the markets would price in the risk of other countries exiting the euro and this could lead to a collapse. It is a dangerous game, we don’t want that to happen and it is good that they have stopped talking about it.”
What are the most important elements in SYRIZA’s economic programme?
“To fight the humanitarian crisis in Greece, to relaunch the economy by looking for valid solutions and to find a way of resolving the problems of private debt, that is, the debt of families that cannot make their mortgage payments to the bank, or their taxes, and to create jobs again by restoring workers’ ability to bargain collectively. In short it is to reform the State, given that we have a patronage system that is very inefficient.”
What is the dialogue with Berlin like on these issues?
“They are in a very strong position, but the ideas that we are debating are European problems. We will have a conversation with them, because we know that they are the most powerful country in Europe, but we will also have conversations with all the other countries in the Euro Zone and the European Union, Italy, France, and Spain. I hope that in the context of this European framework the reactions that we get will be better than what most people may think.”
If SYRIZA wins the elections, will it be a sign to the rest of Europe that the austerity policies are approaching their expiration date? Even when the European Commission remains very conservative?
“Yes, I believe that it will help very much as a move in this direction. Everyone knows that austerity has failed to achieve the objectives that it set for itself. For example, the policies of cutting salaries has not produced less not more employment, the problems of debt have not been resolved, and Europe has ended up experiencing deflation and stagnation. If we have a SYRIZA government, we will prove that this Thatcher-like dialectic of “there is no alternative” is also a mistake. In conclusion, I believe that there will be changes in the political scene of almost all of the European countries.”
What is your answer to the conservatives, who say that SYRIZA is a danger to Greece and all of Europe?
“That it is the last argument that they have at their disposal, because they do not have a programme as an alternative to austerity. I tell people not to be afraid and that we can change Greece and Europe together.”
One last question: what is your opinion about the health of the Italian economy?
“It is not good, for the same reasons as the Greek economy, including austerity. There is high unemployment, especially in the south, an enormous sovereign debt that will not be sustainable, although the interest rates are now low, they won’t be forever. This suggests a low rate of growth and development and this cannot be tolerated for long. Like us, Italy needs a political initiative and much more progressive ideas.”