Anna Diamantopoulou, a former European commissioner, returned to Brussels last week to address the European Economic and Social Committee. In her new role as head of DIKTIO – Network to Reform Greece and Europe, she presented a citizens initiative titled “Education for All”.

In an exclusive interview with New Europe, Diamantopoulou, who had also served as education minister under Greece’s former socialist Pasok government, spoke about the new education initiative. She also explained why austerity measures should be scrapped and spoke about the rising tide of anti-Europeanism in Europe.

“I’m in Brussels to present a new citizen initiative,” she told New Europe. “With the new treaty of Lisbon, EU citizens have the right to change a law or to propose a new policy to the EU Commission with their signature. We are trying to collect 1,000,000 signatures to propose that in each country we will exclude the budget of education from the deficit of the country.

“We won’t exclude the total budget but only a part of it,” she added. “This part will be the difference between a country and the average of the eurozone, for example, if the education budget in the eurozone is 5% and in Italy it is 4%, we exclude only the 1%.”

According to Diamantopoulou, who knows first hand the effects of budget cuts, the idea behind the Education for All initiative is to convert the budget on education in all EU countries. 

“Because as a consequence of the crisis we have greatly underinvested in many countries,” she said. “We will try to carry out this initiative in all countries and we have at the moment a huge and diverse network supporting the proposal.”

Diamantopoulou, who has also presented this proposal to many groups of the European Parliament, said a large number of MEPs support it. She has also discussed the initiative with Androulla Vassiliou, the European Commissioner for Education.

“I know that Mrs Vassiliou finds this proposal very good,” said Diamantopoulou. “When I served as the education minister for two years in Greece, I had also put it to the EU Council and there were seven ministers supporting it. But of course, I think it’s better to include the citizens in this decision making process.”

 

‘Austerity is a kind of religion’

Asked about the austerity measures being implemented across Europe, Diamantopoulou said there is still no alternative. 

”Austerity is still a kind of religion because, as far as the EU Council is concerned, there is no other way. There was a very deep international crisis, but regarding Greece the crisis was a catastrophe. The EU did a lot, but there was not a deep experience on how to face this crisis. Also, the structure and architecture of the euro was not the right one. There was an effort from many countries but we know now that this was too little and too late.”

According to Diamantopoulou, austerity measures have done little to solve the “huge problem” of recession in many EU countries, including her homeland. 

This is why she believes that the upcoming European Parliament elections will be crucial. “Citizens will be able to send a message that something needs to be changed,” she said. “This will be understood, not only by the anti-euro parties, but also by the other mainstream parties. There are some new ideas and proposals but till now we don’t have an alternative plan to overcome the European crisis.” 

Asked about the importance of growth, the former EU Commissioner said: “We didn’t do many things to support growth. Now the recession continues and we can’t see the changes needed. So when we speak about growth we have to have concrete proposals.”

According to Diamantopoulou, a change of policy and status for the European Central Bank is also necessary. “I support the idea to devalue the euro and for the EU banks to issue money,” she said.  “Another important point is that we need a real budget for the EU because 1% is very small. Then, it would also be necessary to have an EU package on public investments.” 

Asked to comment about the anti-European movements in the run up to the European Parliament elections, Diamantopoulou said she is concerned. “We will see many Beppe Grillos in the next European Parliament, but I don’t think they will go over the 18%,” she said. “On the other hand, it will sound an alarm for the main parties to start tabling more concrete proposals.