In his address to the European Parliament on September 11, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said his country had overcome its decade-long financial crisis and reiterated his commitment to cut taxes and social security benefits.
Tsipras specifically pointed to the strengthening of Greece’s social net and argued that the country is determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past, while also pursuing its reform efforts with an eye on creating a fiscal equilibrium.
While speaking to a room full of sceptical European parliamentarians Tsipras that his country has made earlier attempts at a so-called ‘clean exit’ from the Eurozone bailout programmes, but creditors and ongoing “pressure for austerity” that brought Athens to the point of bankruptcy and what he called ‘a social explosion”.
Central to Tsipras’ speech was his emphasis on the key role that has played in Europe’s migrant crisis but avoided any mention of his own government’s failure to improve the dire conditions at the refugee camps located on several North Aegean Greek islands. Instead, Tsipras insisted that Greece had “give lessons in humanity” to the rest of the world and made a conscious effort to “reject hatred”.
Also high on the Greek Prime Minister’s agenda was to address the controversial Prespes Agreement that was signed with his country’s northern neighbour, FYROM/Macedonia, in June as part of an effort to end a 27-year-old dispute over the use of the name “Macedonia”.
Tsipras characterised the agreement as a watershed in the history of bilateral relations between Greece and the nations of the historically volatile Balkan region and added the working relationship that he and his counterpart in Skopje, FYROM/Macedonia Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, should serve as a model for resolving future disputes around the world.
European Commission, Euro and Social Dialogue Commissioner and Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis congratulated Greece for finding a solution to the Name Dispute with FYROM/Macedonia, adding that the agreement “sets an example for the whole region and the wider world”.
Tsipras V=vs EPP
European elections could not have been left out, as Tsipras was challenged by Esteban González Pons, the European People’s Party (EPP) Vice-president.
As Tsipras, stumping for the completion of memorandums, Gonzales ironically said to Mr Tsipras: “I see you’ve changed quite a bit. It (Greece) was a country teetering at the edge of the cliff in 2015 when everyone else turned their back on you,” Gonzales said in reference to a freeze on lines of credit to Greek banks and MEPs’ decision to shun Tsipras’ predecessor, former Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. “You are making positive steps, but you need to go further…We’re worried that in the next elections you may opt return to the populism of your earlier years,” an accusation that Tsipras angrily rejected before calling the Greek opposition party and EPP member, New Democracy, ‘populists’.
“There is no greater populism than bargaining with national issues, changing your mind to fish in the waters of the far-righ,” said Tsipras.
Support from the S&D, criticism from the rest of the political spectrum
Udo Bullmann, a German MEP and the leader of the Alliance of the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, offered its support to Tsipras and publicly blamed the EPP for the hardship that Greece has endured over the better part of the last decade. Bullmann argued that the policies advocated by the leaders of the EPP were responsible for the worst of Greece’s hardships, saying, “your austerity that caused all of this.”
The Alliance of Liberal Democrats’ leader, former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, suggested that both sides were to blame for the situation in Greece, as Athens was not adequately reforming fast enough to properly implement the fundamental changes to its financial and banking sectors, while Europe was not focusing on the bare essentials that average Greek citizens needed to make do, but instead opted to promote “pure accountancy and austerity”.
The Eurozone is still incapable of facing another crisis, according to Verhofstadt, due to the fact that Brussels’ system of governance remains unreformed and lacks transparency.
The Greens/European Free Alliance group, led by German MEP Ska Keller, called for the EU Member States to enforce the bloc’s safety net and set a number of minimum income schemes for all citizens.
Dombrovskis also reminded the audience that the EU has given €1.6 billion to the local authorities in Greece to help deal with the migrant issue and to strengthen the EU’s land and sea borders.