The Conversation: Why does the dialogue between Europe and Greece need to change?
Piketty: Europe has other problems to tackle. There is the migrant crisis and the wider economic situation. Europe, Germany, and France can’t exist in a permanent state of crisis. Europeans need to adjust their position. And for that to happen, France needs to have more courage—others too. Perhaps the elections in Spain at the end of this year will change things. All these elements can combine to influence majority politics in Europe when it comes to the Greek question.
The Conversation: What should Tsipras’s economic priorities be from now on?
Piketty: Modernizing the tax system is clearly the priority. It needs to be fairer and more efficient. But that can only really be done with Europe’s cooperation—and if Europe sets an example. We have to remember that the biggest businesses in Europe often pay less tax than small- and medium-sized businesses. That’s because governments do deals that will lead to favorable conditions for their own national industry. That’s without even considering that the European Commission has a president who, as prime minister of Luxembourg, signed deals with multinational corporations that allowed them to pay just 1 percent to 2 percent tax.
Europe can’t just hand out advice without itself committing to fiscal transparency. That goes to the heart of the system—German and French banks are only too happy to handle the funds of rich Greeks.
The Conversation: What should French President François Hollande do about Greece?
This summer, François Hollande started to make suggestions about making the euro zone more democratic. In particular, he spoke about establishing a parliament for euro-zone countries. But that’s still too timid and too vague. If he wants to do something to save his second term, and above all improve the governance of the euro zone, he needs to make more precise proposals.
I believe there would have been less austerity in Greece, and more solutions would have emerged if there had been public, democratic discussions in a euro-zone parliament, populated with representatives from each national parliament.
The trouble is, the euro zone is currently governed as a technocracy. The heads of state meet behind closed doors. They send out incredible proposals in the middle of the night—like privatizing 50 billion euros of Greek assets—while everyone knows it will be a veritable fire sale. As if the Greek economy could sell its assets under these conditions!
This happened without legal deliberation and without the motives behind the decision being interrogated. We need to put an end to this Europe and start again with a euro-zone parliament that allows everyone’s motives to be made public. What is important now is that France—and all the countries that want to make progress—set out clear proposals to democratically restructure the euro zone.