‘EU has already collapsed’– Beppe Grillo to RT
In an exclusive interview with RT, Grillo, a comedian turned political activist shared his views on current events in Europe and what might be expected in the future, adding that the sooner Italy leaves the eurozone the better.
RT:What is the public mood about austerity measures in Europe at the moment?
Beppe Grillo: The public sentiment is generally quite negative, with all these puzzling words like “spread”, “fiscal compact” and “master parameters”. And these parameters have formed a kind of cage, inside which our taxation system is trapped. It turns out, our political processes as well as our financial system are inside this trap, and if we fail to get out of it, there can be no hope for the better. This type of economy is completely misplaced, and not only in Italy – it isn’t good enough for Europe and the whole world. Growth, growth, jobs and again growth… The coming decade will see a 50 percent jobs cut. The first to lose jobs will be the poorest segment of the middle class, ousted by technology and robotics, networks will become more sophisticated. We are heading for changes that our leaders do not yet anticipate.
Austerity is the term that can mean something good, too. Austerity means that the economy’s key goal is to save the funds. But the thing is that our economy is not making saving a priority. And we are forced to risk our family values and sell out our own country. We are forced to sell it out. Our metal production plants, fashion houses, wineries – all our core assets are now on the line. Milan is the home of a major international food industry exhibition, yet its sponsors are McDonald’s, Novartis and Coca-Cola. We are in an upside-down world. And we need to get back to our feet to understand it. And if we fail to understand it, we’ll be easy prey for the others.
RT:Has the victory of Syriza in Greece changed politics in Europe do you think - or will it, in the near future?
BG: I believe it depends on what kind of compromise will be found.It will mean a lot for the people of Greece. But even today, we can see the consequences of this decision on this global malady - all with the global market, Germany, exports and deflation… They say export is the solution for us, and export only. But if we keep exporting someone has to import. But national markets are going through a crisis now. In our country, we’re actually managing somehow, since the oil prices fell and the euro got weaker, we manage to be turning around some exports. But our domestic market is dead. Every hour on average two businesses get shut down. Speaking of our national debt, the situation in my country is following the Greek scenario. The job market is dwindling. This famous Job act is nothing but a ruse. It keeps the number of working hours the same. The only difference is that now they hire three people to do the job of one.But if number of working hours stays unchanged, this doesn’t in any way increase the production volume. These are fake jobs. Also, the threat of pay cuts has become real now. That means people will spend less, and the situation will only get worse. It is clear that all this going into a tight spiral must be stopped.
RT:What is the best Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras can hope for negotiating with Europe?
BG: As I said, it depends on what kind of compromise he manages to achieve. He says that he can negotiate debt restructuring. But “debt” is a very ambiguous term; it largely depends on who it has to be paid back to. [30 percent] of our debt belongs to German and French banks, not our banks, like, say, in Japan. Japan’s national debt is ten times bigger than ours. But it’s in their hands. That’s great. The Japanese central bank prints the money, invests it into the country’s economy, and so there’s not a single unemployed person in Japan. The unemployment is at 0 percent, even though their debt is ten times bigger than ours. But it’s in their hands, while ours is in the hands of the German and French banks. They are trying to get their money back through the European Central Bank, which gives money to our banks so that they can redeem their debts to the German and French banks. This vicious circle needs to be broken. If Tsipras manages to do that, he will have accomplished something extraordinary. We will admire him for the rest of our lives.
‘Five Star movement revolutionized concept of politics’
RT:How do you estimate your party’s influence on the European political scene and its popularity?
BG: I’m just a comedian; I don’t hold a political office in my country. I’m the founder of this movement. We want to build democracy from the bottom up; we want to flip this pyramid. Many people run for office and get elected. Political office is about being elected, not appointed. We won’t appoint anyone. This changes the perceptions of politics, and thus about the world as a whole. And I’m expressing this idea; I’m making these concepts easier to understand. I’m not an economist. You’re asking me questions and I answer them. But an expert would never agree with what I’m saying. But I’m a comedian, and in comedy some objections are ignored. And maybe now people would rather have a comedian dealing with economy than all those graduates from Oxford and other universities that haven’t once managed to make an accurate prognosis.
RT:Has the Five Star Movement (MoVimento Cinque Stelle) changed anything in Europe?
BG: It has revolutionized the concept of politics. The Five Star Movement caused a crisis in all the parties. This process started in Italy and then spread over to Spain, France and Germany. Grassroots initiatives, leaderless movements “from below” have sprouted all over Europe. Their programs are drawn up by means of internet voting. We vote via the global network. Every decision taken by our MP is shared and agreed with other movement participants, unrelated to the Parliament. People contribute by enrolling in the movement, by online voting. We emerged from the internet. The party was founded in 2009 and has up to now gone through 6 years of life and action. In this stretch of time we managed to set the political panorama absolutely on fire. We are feared. Feared, I tell you. We are the key opponents of all those people in power in Italy, but maybe also in entire Europe, because if Matteo Renzi fails and the European system of transnational banks and financial institutions collapses, the whole European system will collapse. The system. He is the system, so if he goes down, the system will fall to pieces. And we’ll bring him down.
RT:Is the collapse of the EU possible?
BG: I think this collapse has already taken place. The European Union is an absolutely useless formation. If it were a real union, what the word ‘union’ practically means – a community, there would be no such situation as we see in Greece. Its share in the total European GDP is only 2 percent. Other European countries could easily save Greece, with no big effort. Thus, the EU is neither a union, nor a community of states. It cannot be defined. But the underpinning idea of the EU was sound. I support the idea of a common Europe. Our differences help us communicate and find common ground. The differences.
Italians are very different from Germans, Frenchmen, Austrians and Dutchmen. And this is good, because these differences enrich our cultures. But a common currency is a totally different thing. Initially there was to be a common currency, not just one currency. It was the British vision of the European Union. That’s why I am for a united Europe but against a single common currency, the euro, which represents completely different economies.
RT:Do you think Italy needs to leave the eurozone?
BG: We are preparing a referendum. A referendum is needed to let people express their opinion by voting. Especially considering that they were not granted this opportunity when Italy was entering the eurozone. So I think it’s only fair to ask Italians now if they want to be part of it. Personally I want us to leave the eurozone the sooner the better and restore our monetary sovereignty, get back a national bank that can emit money, our fiscal independence and, finally, our alimentary independence. Our food industry supplies French supermarkets, and in Italy we, vice versa, eat French food. It can’t go on like this. It’s not possible to promote arrangements that put our high quality products on the back burner. I’m sick and tired of this.
RT: Is the Italian population ready to abandon euro and come back to the lira?
BG: Yes, the lira. Rather, a lira. Not the lira we used to have twenty years ago. But let’s call this new currency lira, with the lira-euro rate 1 to 1. For me, leaving the Eurozone means primarily launching a currency I call lira, which is not the lira we had 20 years ago, but let’s retain the name lira all the same. When we switch to the new lira its value will automatically decline by 20-30 percent. It will be an immediate shock. And what will happen next? We’ll have to pay more for commodities. But we do not market commodities, what we do is process them. We buy oil and refine it, we buy soybeans and grain and process them. We refine oil to produce petrol getting back the 30 percent in added value, and it won’t significantly affect the final petrol price – 5-10 cents per liter at most. And we’ll get a 30 percent export benefit. I think we’ll become number one in Europe, since we are absolute leaders in terms of industrial production. Our foreign debt will be reduced by 30 percent, our credits too. What is there to be afraid of? They do their best to scare you as soon as you start considering the option of walking out. They start shouting, “Oooooh, what a catastrophe”. It is their problem, their catastrophe, not ours, it is unrelated to intelligent, hardworking people who are intent on doing this. It’s the catastrophe for those who earn money staying at home, abusing the financial system, receiving capital gains, who don’t work for real and are not part of the real economy.
Yes, considering that the financial transaction volume, as it seems, exceeds global GDP by 10-15 percent. Take the German Bundesbank. If you inspect its balance you’ll find there 70 thousand billion dollars in derivatives, hedge funds, financial products etc. And you want them to invest in real economy – in small factories and that sort of thing! But mind you, Germany is also having a hard time. We should treat this issue with utmost care and attention.
The problem, as I see it, largely depends on you, my friends, on how you translate this interview, which parts you’ll choose to broadcast and what your audience will eventually be able to make out of what I said here. Here’s the real problem. We don’t have facts any more, reliable truthful facts. We know nothing about the situation in Afghanistan, or about Iran. We don’t have a slightest idea of what Putin says, because everything is delivered to us in translation made by some American or Israeli language services agency. We can’t have the truth. So first we need to imagine what this truth may be like and go search for it, even if we have to sacrifice something. I appeal to you- go and look for information. Look at me. Dig for truth and don’t believe the journalists who stick labels calling me a rightist, a leftist, a homophobe, a racist and what not. They call me all kinds of names. And, in fact, I am an ordinary man, a comic, with 40 years of professional career under belt, who has found his niche in this world and who woke up one day with a determination to dedicate a bit of his experience, wits and money to the cause of common good. This is what scares people.
Look, I don’t think we need to wait for some moment when everyone feels ready to do it. Besides, what does it mean – whether everyone is ready or not ready? People aren’t ready to let this continue the way it is going, that’s for sure. And that’s the truth. We are no longer ready to let these things keep happening – things like losing our country, our culture, arts, hospitals, schools, water, gas and electricity. We are ruining the future for our grandchildren, that’s the problem. Therefore I think that we need to discuss it, think it over and come out with it. We need to try.
RT:Would you say Italy is coping with huge migration from non-European states?
BG: That’s a problem because we’ve been left out in the cold to deal with it on our own. There is a profound lack of a control system for the incoming passenger flow – right now anyone can get into our country. The control should take place at the embarkation points, not the debarkation points. We have about 110 -120 thousand unaccounted foreign citizens in our country right now, and that’s simply wrong. In other countries such as Australia or the USA, it is not easy to get into the country and disappear inside. Here, it happens all the time. We don’t have a working solution. And both the left-wing and the right-wing political parties are exploiting this problem in order to make their stand. They don’t really have a stand when it comes to economic problems. But when it comes to immigration, they knock themselves out. The right-wingers say we should kick everyone out of the country, the left-wingers say we should keep them, whereas what we really should do is work out a compromise. We should start with revising the Dublin Regulation. We want to do it. We want to have a unified policy on this matter in Europe, and we have 17 representatives in the EU Parliament with expert knowledge in this area.
RT:Recently you suggested 'Italy was on the verge of a bloodless coup' - what did you mean by that?
BG: It has already taken place. It’s not a coup we are used to, I mean, tanks that storm TV channels or block roads. It’s a smart coup. It’s all about causing a division in the parliament, penetrating the government and then installing a strong leader who is going to take full control. Italians are very sensitive to this kind of leaders. The Senate is gone, the parliament doesn’t pass laws, only decrees are issued, and the previous president used to sign all of them.
Anti-corruption laws are passed only to win support at the election, afterwards they would pass an amendment changing one paragraph in one of the provisions – and changing the nature and goal of the law altogether. It’s such a nightmare.
Every day we see politicians getting arrested. That’s happening every day. The problem is that right now the country is not so rich, that’s why corruption becomes so obvious. Corruption has always been there. But there are more arrests simply because you can’t hide it as well as they used to do it in the past. I come from Genoa. In the 1970-80s, the port of Genoa was busy, receiving ships and cargoes from all over the world. There were many prostitutes, gangsters and customs officials took five percent of the goods for themselves.
But as long as the port was profit-making, no-one cared about this. Once its revenues plunged, everyone suddenly woke up to the corruption, prostitution and drug trafficking rampant there. The same is true today – money gets stolen when you have big contracts related to road and mall construction.
But today we are not as rich, only a few can get away with scams, these criminal practices become too obvious although it all started more than 20 years ago – since Operation Clean Hands. It’s not something new but that sheer number of corruption-related crimes today is a sign that the country is in a dire state.
RT:"What’s happening to Greece today, will be happening to Italy tomorrow. Sooner or later, default is coming" you said. So if it happens, what will be the trigger? When will it possibly happen?
BG: I don’t know. Black swan is some factor that you could not have predicted beforehand. The notion was introduced by Iranian scholar Nassim Taleb who suggested that every economic, mathematical, or any academic theory will face factors that you cannot predict. What’s happening today is largely driven by this unknown factor but we can’t really comprehend it. The economy is down, shops and malls close down, towns are dying. The number of these black swans is growing every day. We don’t see them.
Look, we have a permanent budget deficit. Formally, we have surplus of 10-15 billion, which means our government spends less than it earns, like any good housekeeper. But we have 70-75 billion in debt and interest rate that we have to pay out, which means that every year we have a deficit of around 60 billion. It’s can’t go on like this.
For instance, Ecuador told the US that its debt is immoral and Ecuador is not going to pay it off. We can do the same. This debt is im-mo-ral. Actually, it’s not the debt of the Italian nation – or Greek for that matter. It’s a debt that had accumulated from corrupt deals, arms sales, it’s debt to Siemens or international arms corporations that sold Greece their submarines. There were many deals like this one, and people didn’t know anything about them. Now, they keep telling us, “You are to blame, you didn’t live within your means, and you are not paying taxes. But I want to know what happens to my taxes. Why should I pay them, if I don’t get the services the government must provide? The state has distanced itself. It’s only a police force to support violent rallies. There’s no state that would commend you for your hard work. Our government is different, and I want to change it. First we need a reform. The country must be ruled by people, not political parties.
Then we need to reform the media so that people have access to critical opinion. Today people can’t think on their own, that’s why democracy doesn’t really work.
Now let’s talk about the default. Default is what’s happening right now. Default is fear, that what makes you live in fear, thinking you are to blame, living in the state of a crisis. You try to save on everything, you don’t trust anyone or anything. Politicians say that trust must be restored. Trust is a treasure. But you can only have trust for the people who are worth it. Italy doesn’t have such people. We need to start from scratch, to re-invent the Italian and European culture. Who are we? We’ve lost the idea of who we are and what we going to do in the future. We must think about it right now. We must think of the type of energy that we need, goods that we’ll produce and so on. We must start right now otherwise we would be governed by fools and idiots who will drag us down the cliff. We are on this downward path already. I use this tough language because instead of going up, we are moving down. That’s how things stand in politics and the economy of this European country, this world, this galaxy and all existing galaxies.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.