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Interview: Former Latvian FM 'Can't Accept' Greece's Resistance To Reform

Latvian European parliamentarian Sandra Kalniete during a debate on the Ukraine crisis in March 2014

Latvian European parliamentarian Sandra Kalniete during a debate on the Ukraine crisis in March 2014

Chancellor Angela Merkel and her German compatriots have borne a heavy share of the scrutiny of European creditors' handling of the Greek debt crisis. But in fact, each EU effort to shore up Greek finances and each bailout has highlighted a wider group of countries that are particularly bearish on bailouts: the poorer post-Communist states of "new Europe" who underwent massive austerity and reform programs of their own to pave paths to the European Union. RFE/RL Brussels correspondent Rikard Jozwiak spoke with a former Latvian foreign minister and European commissioner who has taken a hard line on Greece in the current crisis, Sandra Kalniete. Now a member of the European Parliament for the conservative European People's Party, Kalniete says she rejects the idea that Athens simply can't "reform Greece to make it sustainable."

RFE/RL: We hear a lot of European politicians these days saying that we must save Greece at any cost and show solidarity with Athens. What is your view on this?

Sandra Kalniete: I would say that, of course, Europe has to show solidarity, but that means that Greece has to go forward with [a] very precise and concrete reform program not only on paper but they have to convince Europeans that they are going to implement it. Because I consider that this isn't fair that countries like Ireland, Spain, Portugal, and Latvia -- we went through [a] reform program. Our people made such sacrifices, and now there comes a nation which received much more from the European Union and international society in credit, and now they are saying that they are not able to reform Greece to make it sustainable. I simply cannot accept it.

RFE/RL: Can the euro survive without Greece?

Kalniete: I believe the euro can survive without Greece. Greece cannot survive without the euro, that's the dilemma. Of course, every European [is] conscious [of] the geopolitical importance of Greece in an environment which is rather difficult to manage and in front of migration waves which are coming from Syria and Libya, and they are also reaching Greece. So that is a high possibility for Prime Minister [Alexis] Tsipras now to act [like] a politician and not [like] a revolutionary. Because I liked very much [the way] one of my colleagues in [the European] Parliament yesterday asked him: How does he want to be remembered by history, as someone who was an electoral accident or someone who reformed Greece?

RFE/RL: Several high-ranking politicians, including EU Council President [Donald] Tusk, said that people who think that a Grexit won't affect the rest of Europe are naive. What do you say to that?

Kalniete: Of course, the most important task if we will not be able to find a common language with Greece on their reforms and set up a solidarity package, then we have to put around [Greece] a sort of sanitary cordon (EDS: cordon sanitaire) to diminish all possible impact that a Grexit can have on [the] euro. But it is feasible, according to experts, [that] a certain impact of course will be not only monetary but political. But it is better to have finally a clear situation than to continue all the time these neverending games with negotiations, leaving the negotiation table, making flamboyant speeches in public inviting to vote against the creditor's proposal and then again claiming that "the Greek people want to stay with Europe, want to stay with [the] euro, but we need [a] more just Europe, [a] more just euro." That is a typical revolutionary slang which is not proper when you are in the government where you have to deal with laws and regulations and you have to provide the best possible solutions and compromises for your nation to strive [for].

RFE/RL: Do you have any sympathy for the Greek people, especially considering that your own country, Latvia, went through the same economic problems as Greece a few years back but without the same political drama?

Kalniete: Yes, I have. Because even if they voted Tsipras into office, even if they voted "no" [in the referendum], they have not such a pragmatic mentality as Latvians. And the price they are paying individually for [a] lack of sound judgment, I would say, is immense. And I think that one of the duties of the European Union, if the worst scenario is not avoidable, is to set up a very good package of social and humanitarian aid to the Greek people.