ZEIT ONLINE: Mr. Varoufakis, in just a few days, you’ve antagonized half of Europe. Was that your plan?
Yanis Varoufakis: I think that’s normal. It will take some time before it’s been understood everywhere that a very fundamental change has taken place in the EU.
ZEIT ONLINE: Which change?
Varoufakis: Europe wasn’t prepared for the crisis in Greece and made decisions that just made everything worse. Now the EU resembles a gambling addict throwing good money after bad. We can’t say: "Stop! Did we do something wrong? Did we perhaps understand this crisis wrong?"
ZEIT ONLINE: Did we? After all, the Greek economy has recently been back on a growth course.
Varoufakis: Perhaps if you look at things in purely statistical terms. But, in reality, incomes and prices are falling. The existing crisis policies have strengthened political forces on the far right all over Europe – in Greece, in France, in Italy. We need a change of course.
ZEIT ONLINE: Many Germans fear this is an excuse to dial back reforms.
Varoufakis: Germans have to understand that it doesn’t mean we’re turning away from the reform path if we give an additional €300 a year to a pensioner living on €300 a month. When we talk about reforms, we should talk about cartels, about rich Greeks who hardly pay any taxes. Why does a kilometer of freeway cost three times as much where we are as it does in Germany?
ZEIT ONLINE: Why?
Varoufakis: Because we’re dealing with a system of cronyism and corruption. That’s what we have to tackle. But, instead, we’re debating pharmacy opening times.
ZEIT ONLINE: Many governments have promised to do something to counter these problems. But little has happened. So why should people trust you?
Varoufakis: You need not trust us. But you should listen to us. Listen to what we have to say, and let us then discuss it with an open mind.
ZEIT ONLINE: You are new to your office, and most cabinet members do not have any experience in government. How do you intend to accomplish everything?
Varoufakis: We may be inexperienced, but we aren’t part of the system. And we will get some expert advice. We’ve approached José Ángel Gurría, the secretary-general of the OECD, the organization of industrialized countries. He is supposed to help us put together a reform programme.
ZEIT ONLINE: Your government has rehired thousands of civil servants. Is that the new Greece?
Varoufakis: We haven’t hired anyone at all yet. We have announced that we want to have a look at a series of public-sector dismissals that were pronounced under questionable circumstances. If we rehire these people, it will be because the justification for their dismissal was unconvincing.
ZEIT ONLINE: The justification was lack of money.
Varoufakis: That doesn’t convince me. For example, our schools were plundered because the security people lost their jobs. Is that a sensible cost-cutting measure? We fire the security staff, and the school’s computers are stolen at night.