Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis told Bloomberg Television’s Guy Johnson that he’ll quit if Greece votes to accept creditors’ bailout proposals in Sunday’s referendum.
Johnson directly asked him “If there’s a yes vote come Monday night, you will not be Finance Minister” and Varaufakis responded: “I will not.”
Varoufakis also said that he would “prefer to cut my arm off” than sign a deal that fails to restructure Greece’s debt.
JOHNSON: Will the Greek banks open next Tuesday as normal?
VAROUFAKIS: Absolutely. You have to understand that there’s a profound difference between what happened in Cyprus in 2013, let’s say, and what’s happening here. This is not a banking crisis; it’s not the banks are the problem. According to the ECB and the SSM, the banks were perfectly capitalised, there wasn’t a problem with them. What is happening here is a political position by Europe to shut the banks down as a way of effectively pushing us to accept a non-viable agreement at a political level, so this is a political crisis, it’s got nothing to do with the banks. Once the political crisis is over, after the Greek people deliver their verdict, the banks will open.
JOHNSON: How will the banks open without a program? How will the ECB extend the ELA without a programme? You won’t necessarily be in a programme on Tuesday morning, you’re starting with a blank piece of paper.
VAROUFAKIS: You have to understand that Europe since the great financial crisis of 2008 has been making up rules as it’s going along. The SM, QE, everything the Greek programme, the FSF… all these are last-minute arrangements by which to handle an inevitable crisis that no one was expecting. I can assure you that Monday, if there’s the political will, the ECB, on the back of some preliminary agreement by teleconference with the Eurogroup, can easily increase ELA in order to restart the banking system and we could have an agreement within 24 hours.
JOHNSON: So the ECB will be making up the rules as it’s going along, is that what you’re saying?
VAROUFAKIS: Well, that’s what it does. It’s been doing this for five years. Think back Ireland 2009. Think back to everything that’s happened. The “whatever it takes speech”, what was that? Was it in any rule book?
JOHNSON: And you think that ELA will be increased on Tuesday morning regardless of the outcome?
VAROUFAKIS: No, it won’t be regardless of the outcome, it will depend on the outcome, that’s why we do have a referendum, because it’s crucial contributor to coming to an agreement. The ECB has rules, but it adapts them as it goes along because it has to. Nobody would expect the ECB would have to play this role since 2010 and what politicians need to do is enable Mario Draghi and his governing council to do right by the Eurozone.
JOHNSON: So it’s not regardless of the outcome, so, sorry, I’m confused. Which way, if it’s a yes vote or no vote, will it be OK for the ECB to be able to extend ELA?
VAROUFAKIS: Well yes, but the actual outcome, what we do with this economy, and whether we carry on extending the crisis into the future will depend on the outcome. If there is a yes, we have committed on signing on the dotted line of the kind of agreement that was offered to us, in which case the ECB will be happy to open the banks.
JOHNSON: So if there’s a yes vote, you will sign the deal that’s on offer?
VAROUFAKIS: Well we are deconstructed democrats, aren’t we? We said that we’re going to take this to the Greek people, and if they say yes to this particular kind of proposal by the institutions we would do whatever it takes to make sure that it’s signed. If there’s a no vote, as we are recommending to the Greek people, is delivered, then we will immediately start negotiations, and believe you me, there is going to be an agreement along lines that are different to that of the institutions.
JOHNSON: Let me just explore that for a moment. So, what will, what are the Greek people voting on? Because there are plenty of people out there that are saying at the moment that there is effectively no offer on the table, that there’s a blank piece of paper, that you’re out of the programme. So I’m curious about what you think the Greek people are voting-
VAROUFAKIS: It’s a bit disingenuous, isn’t it? On 25th June, in the Eurogroup I was presented with a very comprehensive proposal by the institutions. It was more or less on the take-it-or-leave-it basis. What we said was, for us, just reading it, and I’m sure any independent observer would agree with this, this was just another extend and pretend. If we were to agree on that, we would be extending the crisis for another few months. The banks would be open, but we would have exactly the same situation as we’ve had in the last five months. So what we’re saying to the Greek people is, no more extend and pretend, please back us to say no, not to any deal, but to this deal, which has absolutely no specific funding proposal coming with it and no debt sustainability analysis that is worth the paper that it is written on. So, this is what we’re saying no to. This kind of mentality, you know, just sign up, take a small branch of money just to tide you over for a few months then we’ll come back to the same crisis and the same crunch and the same decision…it’s time to end this.
JOHNSON: But if there’s a yes, what will you be signing? If you can be specific, what will you be prepared to sign come Tuesday morning if there is a yes vote?
VAROUFAKIS: If you have any doubt that if there is a yes, the same proposal that was presented to me on 25th June will be back on the table, it certainly will be. It’s what the institutions want.
JOHNSON: And that’s what you’ll sign up for?
VAROUFAKIS: We’ll find a way of signing this. Maybe we’ll change the configuration of the government, because some of us will not be able to stomach it, personally I won’t sign another extend and pretend, I’m allergic to extending and pretending, but I will not scupper it.
JOHNSON: So you won’t be signing.
VAROUFAKIS: I will do, and I’m sure the Prime Minister will do, and everybody in the government will do what we must do in order to respect the verdict of the Greek people – but there won’t be a yes verdict. I’m quite confident that the Greek people have had enough of extending and pretending – like the rest of the world, by the way.
JOHNSON: Just to nail you down more-
VAROUFAKIS: Please do.
JOHNSON: If there’s a yes vote come Monday night, you will not be Finance Minister.
VAROUFAKIS: I will not.
JOHNSON: Right. OK. So this is kind of make-or-break for you.
VAROUFAKIS: Yeah. But I will help whoever is in order to push it through that building over there, the Greek parliament.
JOHSNON: And you think that there would be some sort of coalition formed at that point, or would it be the current party arrangement?
VAROUFAKIS: There’s no sense in speculating now, firstly because the Greek people will say no, because the Greek people have had enough of losing their dignity by signing agreements and making pledges that simply cannot be met, because the financing is wrong. Technically wrong.
JOHNSON: Just to circle back to the first question, if there is a ‘No’ vote, you would still expect the ECB to provide extra ELA money to open the Greek banks on Tuesday?
VAROUFAKIS: I respect central bank independence, I’m not going to tell them what to do but I can tell you there will be an agreement and once there is an agreement the ECB will decide what it has to do.
JOHNSON: Ok, I’m just thinking about the timeline here. So Tuesday morning – there are plenty of people out there who are trying to take 60 euros a day out of their banks, they want to know if the banks are going to open.
VAROUFAKIS: Is that a terrible thing?
JOHNSON: Clearly it’s a terrible thing.
VAROUFAKIS: But is it a terrible thing that the euro group chose to close down our banks, just in order to deny the Greek people the right to have a say on the Institution’s proposal? It’s a rhetorical question.
JOHNSON: I appreciate it’s a rhetorical question. But just to come back to the specifics of it, Tuesday morning, people are going to want their banks to open up. If there’s a ‘No’ vote, how long will it take to negotiate? How long do you think it will take to get to the point at which you have sufficient commonality in your views with the euro group that a deal looks likely and the ECB has the political cover it needs – because it’s a rules based organisation – to step up and say, you know what, we will extend the ELA for the Greek banks.
VAROUFAKIS: About an hour.
JOHNSON: You think that quickly?
VAROUFAKIS: We have been negotiating now for five months. We know their position, they know our position. We are ever so close when it comes to the reform package.
JOHNSON: How close?
VAROUFAKIS: Extremely close. Just compare and contrast the Institution’s proposal regarding the SLA – the Staff Level Agreement – which is the fiscal and reform package, and look at ours. They are ever so close. What is not close is the general framework of funding and debt restructuring in which this has to be embedded to make it viable. They wanted us to sign on the dotted line of a non-viable – from a funding perspective, from a debt sustainability perspective – the agreement of reforms and very harsh reforms for us because we don’t consider them to be [INAUDIBLE] reforms, we consider them to be yet another version of austerity. But we were prepared, for the sake of reaching an agreement, to sign it. But it has to be made sustainable because otherwise you would be back here – if we agreed to the proposal that was given to us on the 25th of June – you would be back here in October, November talking about another crunch negotiation. This country has had enough of it. We wanted to have a difficult agreement, a difficult reform package – one that makes us cross many of our red lines as a political party. We were prepared to do this for the sake of Europe and Greece but, at least, tell us, is this going to be the end of this negotiating under the conditions of crisis? The answer is ‘No’ because they have no – they have absolutely no credible funding and debt reconstruction proposal to come along with it.
JOHNSON: So debt reconstruction is pivotal for you. It’s a deal breaker, it still remains a deal breaker. I saw the six points you put out on your blog. Five of them, it appeared to me, were about debt reconstruction. You still see this as absolutely central to your decision despite that not being the message you’re getting from your colleagues at the euro group?
VAROUFAKIS: Look, I’m the finance minister of a radical left party. Don’t listen to me, listen to the IMF. Ask them that question. They just came out with a report saying precisely that. Ask the US government. Do they believe that the Greek debt is sustainable? No they don’t. Ask any independent, sensible observer or economist, they will say the same thing. Isn’t it time that, after five years of pretending and extending, we stop this? And we have an agreement which is based on a debt sustainability analysis that people don’t laugh at?
JOHNSON: Debt swaps, maturity extensions, all of that stuff. Would that be enough?
VAROUFAKIS: It’s not all of that stuff. It’s something that a financial engineer can do in ten minutes. It’s very simple: we have a debt of 27 billion sitting in the books of the ECB, blocking QE. We have to remove that and put it in the ESM, making it long dated you take the liability from one pocket of the troika, and you put it somewhere else, and you solve the finding problem for the next two years and you unleash QE for Greece. At the same time, we have a cliff, a fiscal cliff, a funding cliff in 2022. If you look at the projection of our debt repayments, we go from something like 10 billion to 30 billion in ‘22. No investor likes that. So, let’s extend that, smoothen it out. That’s what we’re proposing. We’re a radical left government making a proposal that any bankruptcy lawyer in New York would just agree with in a jiffy.
JOHNSON: So, Greece will be in chapter 11.
VAROUFAKIS: Well, we’ve been in chapter 11 since 2010. Why are we in this mess? Because we were insolvent then. The problem was that nobody wanted to admit to it, and they treated the problem of insolvency as if it were a problem for illiquidity, and you know what we are saying? This economy has lost one quarter of its GDP because of that, and it’s about time we ended it.
JOHNSON: You personally won’t sign a deal without debt reorganization being a part of it. That’s pivotal, and fundamental to you.
VAROUFAKIS I would prefer to cut my arm off.
JOHNSON: OK. So that’s a pretty big red line.
VAROUFAKIS: I’ve been saying this since I can remember, yeah. I don’t have the model right to sign another extend and pretend which is condemning this economy to further stagnation, because let’s face it, ask any member of our audience at the moment as an investor, would you invest in a country whose debt is not sustainable according to the IMF? This is why investment has dried up. The only investment we’ve had was speculative money that has come in, in and out; no serious investment has been made. Naturally. So we want to reform this company. And we are prepared to accept reforms that are not palatable to us. But we want to do it in the context of debt restructure and an investment programme which crowds money in and takes Grexit off the table. The only way to take Grexit off the table is not to get rid of this government. The only way to take Grexit off the table is to get rid of those funding cliffs and the unsustainability of the debt.
JOHNSON: I spoke to your predecessor about half an hour ago and he called this a “fake referendum” and other people I’ve heard saying that as well. And the reason he might be saying that is you talk about wanting to take Grexit off the table, why don’t you therefore ask a very simple question which all of the Greek people can understand, which is, do you want to be a member of the Eurozone regardless of the consequences, and portray it in the terms that at least Greek people can understand?
VAROUFAKIS: That would be a fake question.
VAROUFAKIS: Let me tell you. Why is Greece constantly on the brink of collapse, and with Grexit in the air? The reason is the extending and pretending. It wasn’t the radical left government. We’re the product of the failure of these problems, so what I’m saying is this. We really, desperately want to stay in the euro, even if we’re critical of the institutional framework of the euro. Once you get inside a monetary union like that you don’t want to get out. It would be catastrophic. We want to be in it. So the question for the Greek people is how do you stay in it?
So you stay by further extending and pretending? I believe not. If we sign that agreement that has been offered by the institutions, in six months, twelve months, we will be even closer to insolvency, even closer to Grexit, so we’re not going to put this question to people because if you’re asking me do you want to keep Greece in the euro the answer is absolutely yes. It’s a senseless question. People want us to stay in the euro. The referendum is about how to achieve that. Do we achieve it by accepting another extending and pretending? I don’t think so, or by rejecting it. I do think so.
JOHNSON: You keep telling me you’re a radical left government, and you’ve also indicated that if there’s a yes, you will step aside. Do you get the impression that Berlin is seeking regime change? Do you get the impression that Angela Merkel is seeking regime change here in Greece?
VAROUFAKIS: I’m going to quote from a British television serial and say ‘you may very well say that but I couldn’t possibly comment’.
JOHNSON: Okay but do you think that this is a government they don’t want to deal with?
VAROUFAKIS: Well you don’t have to ask me that. It is quite self-evident, isn’t it?
VAROUFAKIS: Well think of the election campaign and think of all the conservative parties and centrist parties that have campaigned against us, from across Europe. Mr. Rajoy the Spanish PM came here and campaigned in favour of the sitting government at the time. Look at what the German and French press was writing at the time, they just didn’t like the idea of us not so much because we’re a left-wing government, because left, right means nothing these days. This was a question of do we challenge the established logic which is our view is irrational, that you need to impose the greatest austerity on the most recessionary economy, and they don’t like the idea that we’re going to challenge that. You know, that supposed logic.
JOHNSON: There’s another way of looking at it, which is to say, they don’t trust you.
VAROUFAKIS: Well let me put it differently. They trust us, to say no to a logic which they understand is particularly fragile, but which they don’t have the political means, by which to reconsider themselves as they should. They know if we give our word on something we’ll keep it, unlike other governments. So the question of trust, is actually lopsided. It’s upside down.
JOHNSON: But the sense seems to be that they don’t trust you…
VAROUFAKIS: That’s not true. I dispute that. I think they trust us to do what we’ll say we will do and they can see that with the referendum. They don’t like what we’re doing, which is to challenge what they are saying. Look nobody likes to be told they were wrong. So imagine now we have the three largest institutions in the world, the IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank, they’ve been imposing on this country a certain programme of reforms, of fiscal policy, which is the greatest failure in economic history, in the world. They don’t like to hear that. They want to pretend the reason why we are having trouble is because we were elected and there was a problem that was working — it wasn’t working and that’s why we were elected, and that it’s all the fault of the Greek government — it isn’t. It’s time they came clean on their failures.
JOHNSON: You arrive here every day on your motorbike. You put your helmet downstairs. At what point in the day do you go the ATM and take out your €60 per day?
VAROUFAKIS: Do you know, I haven’t done it. My wife and I must be the only Greeks who haven’t done it.
JOHNSON: Why not?
VAROUFAKIS: Well first of all I don’t have much time, and secondly, and I feel it would be inappropriate for me to queue up at the ATM.
JOHNSON: Why? You’re a member of the Greek population, you play by the same rules as everyone else.
VAROUFAKIS: I know
JOHNSON: Wouldn’t it be solidarity?
VAROUFAKIS: You mean to line up with them? It would be in a sense. I’ll consider it.
JOHNSON: Okay we’ll look forward to seeing you there, but actually to a fair point, much has been made of the fact that tourists don’t have the same rules applied to them. Do you have access to money elsewhere? You haven’t been to the ATM yet. You clearly have thought this one through, with accessing cash.
VAROUFAKIS: Well let’s not personalise this too much. Let’s just say my wife and I are living a very frugal life at the moment, simply because we’re just too inundated going from one political meeting to another.
JOHNSON: But you have skin the game here. You feel as much solidarity with the Greek people as any other member of the Greek society. You have an Australian passport. There are people who are going to say to you are you actually doing this on good faith?
VAROUFAKIS: Not only do I have an Australian passport but I left a job at the University of Texas to be here, but let me say this. The moment I decided to throw my hat in the ring, I also decided I’m not going to leave, whatever happens, so I’m going to be here with the lot of them. And I’m not leaving.
JOHNSON: So come Monday if you’re out of a job, you’re going to stay here?
VAROUFAKIS: Remember I’m still going to be a member of parliament, together with the rest of the government, and we are going to have a very solid base from which to make the point, that it’s about time Europe accepts a very radical principal – the principal of democracy, and the principle of rationality, two principles that emanated from this continent, which have been set aside recently.
JOHNSON: So you might step aside, but you still feel that Syriza will be the bulk of this government post this referendum.
VAROUFAKIS: Well Syriza is going to be the major force in politics after Monday, whatever happens and we’re going to make sure that this country is given the change it deserves to become a proper first class, not second class or third class citizen within the European Union and the Eurozone. At the moment we’re being treated as if we’re a debt colony who doesn’t have rights.
JOHNSON: Final question. You and Mr. Tsipras talk. You have indicated to me that you will step aside come Monday night if the vote doesn’t go your way, have you and he talked about whether he will step aside?
VAROUFAKIS: This is not the time…when you go into battle you don’t talk about defeat. We’re going to win on Sunday, and we’re going to be here to forge a mutually-beneficial agreement with the rest of Europe.
Video for viewing here.
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