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World

Greek Reform Minister: 'We Want To Keep Greece Within Eurozone'

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And we turn now to George Katrougalos, a minister in the Greek government. His assignment is administrative reform, and despite the hard line from Germany, he says he's hopeful a compromise can be reached.

GEORGE KATROUGALOS: The (unintelligible) is is that we don't want the European taxpayers to pay additional money. We don't want new money from them. But we want a way to restructure the debt so as to be able to pay it back.

SIEGEL: Why is Greece's position in these talks with Europe any stronger today after a referendum by Greeks than it was one week ago when Greece rejected what was on the table?

KATROUGALOS: I can tell you that. Some political cells in Europe - of course not all our partners - did not want a solution of the problem. They wanted just get rid of the only left government of - in Europe because they were afraid of eventual political contagion. We're going to have elections in Spain, in Portugal, in Ireland. So 10 days ago, they had presented us an ultimatum that we could not accept. And the dilemma they had in mind for us was either a political suicide - to accept something that was quite contrary to our positions - or the sudden death. That's why we had to go to the people and ask through the referendum if they can accept the proposal that we, the government, consider it to be not even a base for discussion.

SIEGEL: Well, after Europe has - after all of Europe has seen the result of the referendum, do you see any differing attitude on the part of Greeks' creditors in response to that or do they say, look, we know you didn't like the plan, but we still need these terms from you?

KATROUGALOS: It's more than that. It is not that we don't like the plan. Our proposal (unintelligible) also very hard for the Greek population. The difference is another. It's actually an issue of democracy. If there is only one economic policy possibly without any kind of alternatives, just one policy, why to have elections? We are just a different voice in Europe and we want to be heard. And the difference with a regard to what's happened before the referendum is that one can ignore a government. Governments pass go. One cannot elect a new Greek people and the Greek people has spoken. He must be heard.

SIEGEL: How vital is it to you that Greece remain in the eurozone? Quite apart from the referendum - can you see just as easily Greece saying there are no terms that are acceptable. We would do better outside of this common currency?

KATROUGALOS: No, no, our mandate when we have been elected in January - now our position to the referendum is that we want to keep Greece within the eurozone, within Europe, but within a social Europe. What we don't want is this Europe of rising inequalities.

SIEGEL: But you know what a lot of West Europeans say. They say, look, there's nothing political, there's nothing socialist about not collecting taxes from people. Greece has been running a broken financial system and a broken fiscal system all these years.

KATROUGALOS: Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely. We have inherited a system that was an alliance between oligarchs that did not pay taxes and a corrupt political elite. And therefore we want to reform the state, not because our lenders demand it but because our society needs it. And with regard to tax - these are basic effort. Now we are negotiating with Switzerland in order to have access into the accounts that these rich guys from Greece have managed to get out of the country this year.

SIEGEL: Mr. Katrougalos, thank you very much for talking with us today.

KATROUGALOS: It was a pleasure. Thank you, bye bye.

SIEGEL: So George Katrougalos, who is a minister for administrative reform in the Greek government, he spoke to us from the parliament building in Athens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.