Interview with José-María Siles

BY ALİ ONUR ÖZÇELİK** | 13.09.2011

_siles_jose-mariaAlthough he was born in the heart of Andalusia, Spain, those who know him are quick to point out that his perfectionism in work seems more Swiss than Spanish. Some would argue that his teutonic work ethic has something to do with the fact that he spent long periods of time in Germany as a foreign correspondent for the Spanish National Television (TVE). Spending time as a foreign correspondent in Berlin (covering the fall of the Wall), Rabat, Sarajevo (during the siege), Madrid, Port-au-Prince, Kinshasa, New York, Washington and finally Brussels, José-María may have had to acclimatize to local cultures, but that has never meant adapting to local working hours. He likes to define himself as a fighter, never giving up and always going beyond (and behind) the news, looking for new ways to understand reality.

And it is a great opportunity that Mr. Siles will discuss his approaches to issues from the Greek crisis to Euroscepticism.

1. So Mr. Siles, given the fact that Spain, Portugal, Greece and Ireland have received massive structural funds from the EU, why do you think all cohesion countries are struggling with an economic crisis? What is the main reason behind the economic crisis in those countries?

I don’t think both things are related. In terms of the funds, some countries (like Spain) have used them well, in a transparent and efficient way; others (like Greece) have not been as efficient at using the money and apparently the level of fraud has been high. The main cause of the crisis in these peripheral countries is the high level of public spending, which far exceeds national income. In other words, such states have spent more than they have produced. They have lived in a bubble of well-being that has exceeded their means and now they have to pay for what they didn’t have. And continue lacking. But because they’re in the Eurozone their liquidity problems affect the others.

2. The Greek crisis has led to fears that this is only the beginning of a deeper sovereign debt crisis that could ultimately destabilise the Eurozone. Are these fears exaggerated? How to deal with these problems?

In fact, the Eurozone has already become destabilised. The Greek problem became everyone’s problem, just like the Irish, Portuguese, Spanish or Italian problems. When things become difficult, politicians blame markets, but no one takes responsibility nor shows leadership. The sovereign debt crisis has exposed the lack of leadership qualities, courage and vision of European leaders. Every time that they act they do so late and timidly. The measures adopted at the last euro summit, on 21 June, should have been adopted a year earlier. Let us not forget that the first thing that European leaders did as soon as Athens’ real debt and deficit were known was to announce that Europe would not help Greece. In the last 18 months we have continually seen how every single measure that has had to be adopted has implied a U-turn or correction vis-à-vis an earlier policy decision.

3. What needs to be done to rescue the Greek economy? Is it even possible to rescue the Greek economy?

I believe that what is being done is the only thing that can be done to save the Greek economy and the euro. There was no alternative to the bailout, even though both the first and second phases have not provided sufficient funds to this end. However much Greece tightens its belt I cannot see them viably reducing debt to the levels foreseen in the plan, much less if we consider that the austerity measures undermine the possibility of economic growth, putting the public purse under even greater strain. In those countries in which an outside intervention has been necessary to reduce public debt and excessive deficits, economic recovery has been a longer and more painful process.


* Published in Political Reflection Magazine (PR) Vol. 2 | No. 3

** Ali Onur Ozcelik is a Doctoral Researcher at the University of Sheffield.

© Copyright 2011 by CESRAN

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