First speech

Thank you very much Mr. President.

Honorable Members of Parliament, it is an honor for me to speak in this veritable temple of European democracy. Thank you very much for the invitation. I am honored to address the elected representatives of the peoples of Europe, at a critical time both for my country–for Greece–and for the Eurozone and the European Union as a whole, as well.

I find myself among you, just a few days following the strong verdict of the Greek people, following our decision to allow them to express their will, to directly decide, to adopt a stance and to actively take part in the negotiation regarding their future. Only a few days after their strong verdict instructing us to strengthen our efforts to achieve a socially just and financially sustainable solution to the Greek problem–without the mistakes of the past that condemned the Greek economy, and without the perpetual and hopeless austerity that has trapped the economy into a recessionary vicious cycle, and society in a long-lasting and deep depression. The Greek people made a brave choice, under unprecedented pressures, with the banks being closed, with the majority of the media attempting to terrorize people that a NO vote would lead to a rupture with Europe.

It is my pleasure to be in this temple of democracy, because I believe that we are here to first listen to arguments and then judge those arguments. “Smite me, but first listen to me”.

The brave choice of the Greek people does not stand for a break with Europe, but for a return to the founding principles of European integration, the principles of Democracy, solidarity, mutual respect and equality.

It is a clear message that Europe–our common European project–the European Union, will either be democratic or will face enormous difficulties surviving, given the difficult conditions we’re experiencing.

The negotiation between the Greek government and its partners, which will be completed shortly, seeks to reaffirm Europe’s respect for common operational rules, as well as absolute respect for the democratic choice of our people.

My government and I, personally, came to power about five months ago. But the rescue programs have been in place for about five years. I take full responsibility for what has occurred during these five months. But we should all acknowledge that the primary responsibility for the difficulties that the Greek economy is experiencing today, for the difficulties that Europe is experiencing today, is not the result of choices made in the last five months, but in the five years of implementing programs that did not end the crisis. I want to assure you that, regardless of one’s opinion whether the reform efforts were right or wrong, the fact remains that Greece, and the Greek people, made an unprecedented effort to adjust over the last five years. Extremely difficult, and tough. This effort has exhausted the stamina of the Greek people.

Of course such efforts didn’t only take place in Greece. They took place elsewhere, as well – and I fully respect the effort of other nations and governments that had to cope with, and decide on difficult measures – in the many European countries where austerity programs were implemented. However, nowhere else were these programs so difficult and long-lasting as in Greece. It would not be an exaggeration to say that my country has been transformed into an experimental austerity laboratory for the last five years. But we must all admit that the experiment did not succeed.

In the past five years, unemployment skyrocketed, poverty skyrocketed, social marginalization grew tremendously, as did the public debt, which prior to the launch of the programs was 120% of GDP, and is currently 180% of GDP. Today, the majority of Greek people, regardless of our evaluations–this is reality and we must accept it–feel that they have no choice but to fight to escape from this hopeless course. And it is this desire, expressed in the most direct and democratic way that we, as the government, are called upon to help bring about.

We seek an agreement with our partners. An agreement, however, that will lead to a definitive end to the crisis. Which will give hope, that at the end of the tunnel, there is light. An agreement which will provide for reliable and necessary reforms–no one is opposed to this–but that will shift the burden to those who really have the ability to shoulder it – and who, during the last five years, were protected by the previous governments and did not shoulder the burden – that was placed entirely on the shoulders of the workers, the pensioners, those who can no longer bear it. And, of course, with redistributive policies that will benefit the low and middle classes so that balanced and sustainable growth can be achieved.

The proposal that we are submitting to our partners includes:

– credible reforms, based on, as I said earlier, the fair distribution of the burdens, and with the least possible recessionary effect.

– a request for adequate coverage of the country’s medium-term financing needs, with a strong and front-loaded growth program; if we do not focus on a growth agenda, then we will never see an end to the crisis. Our first objective must be to combat unemployment and encourage entrepreneurship,

-and of course, the request for an immediate commitment to begin a sincere dialogue, a meaningful discussion to address the problem of the public debt’s sustainability.

There can be no taboo issues between us. We need to face reality and look for solutions to this reality, regardless of how difficult these solutions may be.

Our proposal was submitted to the Eurogroup, for review during the Summit yesterday. Today, we are sending a request to the European Support Mechanism. We have committed, in the next couple of days, to provide all of the specifics regarding our proposal, and I hope that we will succeed to meet the requirements of this critical situation in the coming days, both for the sake of Greece, as well as for the sake of the Eurozone. I would say, principally, not only for the financial sake, but also for the geopolitical sake of Europe.

I want to be very clear on this point: the Greek government’s proposals to finance its obligations and restructure its debt are not intended to further burden the European taxpayer. The money given to Greece—let’s be honest–never actually reached the Greek people. It was money given to save the Greek and European banks–but it never went to the Greek people.

Furthermore, since August 2014, Greece has not received any disbursement installments in accordance with the rescue plan in place through the end of June, installments that amount to 7.2 billion euros. They have not been granted since August 2014, and I’d like to point out that our government was not in power from August 2014 through January 2015. The installments were not disbursed because the program was not being implemented. The program was not being implemented during that time (i.e., Aug. ’14-Jan. ’15)–not because of ideological matters—as is the case today, but exactly because the program then, like now, was missing social consensus. In our view, it is not enough for a program to be correct, it is also important for it to be possible to be implemented, that social consensus exists in order for it to be implemented.

Honorable Members of Parliament, at the same time that Greece was negotiating and claiming 7.2 billion euro in disbursements, Greece had to repay–to the same institutions that we were petitioning for the disbursements–installments worth 17.5 billion euros. The money was paid from the meager finances of the Greek people.

Honorable Members of Parliament, despite what I’ve mentioned, I am not one of those politicians who claim that “evil foreigners” are responsible for my country’s woes. Greece is on the verge of bankruptcy because the previous Greek governments created a clientelistic state for many years, they supported corruption, they tolerated or even supported the interdependence between politics and the economic elite, and tax evasion on vast amounts of wealth was left unchecked. According to a study by Credit Suisse, 10% of Greeks possess 56% of the national wealth. And that 10% of Greeks, in the period of austerity and crisis, were left untouched–they haven’t contributed to the burdens as the remaining 90% of Greeks have contributed. The rescue programs and the Memoranda did not even attempt to address these great injustices. Instead, they exacerbated them, unfortunately. None of the supposed reforms of the Memorandum programs, unfortunately, improved the tax collection mechanism that collapsed despite the eagerness of some “enlightened,” as well as justifiably scared, public servants. No supposed reforms addressed the notorious triangle of corruption that was set up in our country many years ago, prior to the crisis, between the political establishment, the oligarchs and the banks. No reforms have improved the operation and efficiency of the State, which has learned to operate to serve special interests rather than the common good. And, unfortunately, proposals to address these problems are now in the spotlight. Our proposals focus on real reforms, which aim at changing Greece. Reforms that the previous governments, the old political guard, as well as those driving the Memoranda plans, did not want to see implemented in Greece. This is the simple truth. Dealing effectively with the oligopolistic structure and the cartel practices in individual markets – including the unregulated and unaccountable television market – strengthening the control mechanisms regarding public revenues and the labor market to combat tax avoidance and evasion, and modernizing the Public Administration constitute our government’s reform priorities. And of course, we expect our partners’ agreement on these priorities.

Today, we come with a strong mandate from the Greek people and with a firm determination to not clash with Europe, but to clash with the vested interests in our country, and with the established rationales and attitudes that plunged Greece into crisis, and are putting a drag on the Eurozone, as well.

Honorable Members of Parliament,

Europe is at a critical crossroads. What we call the Greek crisis is but the general inability of the Eurozone to a find a permanent solution to a self-sustaining debt crisis. In fact, this is a European problem, and not a Greek problem exclusively. And a European problem requires a European solution.

European history is full of conflict, but at the end of day, of compromises, too. But it is also a history of convergence and enlargement. A history of unity, and not of division. That’s why we talk of a united Europe–let’s not allow it to become a divided Europe. We are currently being called upon to reach a viable and honorable compromise in order to avoid a historical break that would overturn the tradition of a united Europe.

I am confident that we all appreciate the gravity of the situation and that we will respond accordingly; we will assume our historic responsibility.

Thank you.

Source: / RedGlobe


Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ summary comments

This meeting should have taken place a long time ago. Because the debate we are having today is not just about Greece’s future, it’s about the future of the Eurozone. And indeed, we cannot have this debate behind closed doors. We do not bear responsibility for this.

For five months, the negotiation has taken place behind closed doors. Yet, how it will it proceed–and how it will end–are highly political issues. We realized this today during the course of the very fruitful discussion we’ve had. And during the course of what has been debated between Eurozone member states–without confrontation, but with political and ideological richness. And I sincerely respect all opinions heard, even those that were highly polemic in their rhetoric.

I’d like to say that I’m in agreement with the views voiced that the European Parliament should play a more active role. The Parliament could indeed have  empowered the three institutions–the Troika–certainly the Commission and the European Central Bank, that handles funding; instead, Troika decisions have been driven by the IMF rather than the pre-eminent European institution of democracy, the European Parliament.

I would like to say in all honesty: had the discussion and negotiation of this European affair been conducted exclusively between the Greek side and the Commission, a solution and an agreement would have been achieved a long time ago.

For better or worse, we had to conduct a negotiation – please listen to the arguments first, and then you can take the floor to rebut them – being obliged to speak with the members of the Greek government and with the three different institutions, which oftentimes had different and conflicting positions and proposals. This is the stark reality of the situation.

I want to be direct, and respond to some of the issues raised during our discussion. To begin with, there appears to be a question regarding whether the Greek side has submitted credible proposals, something that you can judge for yourselves. The Greek side has submitted proposals–it submitted a 47-page document – not of our positions – but of those that resulted from the difficult and arduous negotiation process. Unfortunately, what is being intimated is that the Greek side has not submitted proposals.

Last Monday, the Greek side offered a new document with credible proposals, which was accepted as a basis for discussion by all three institutions. Last Monday. In these proposals, we committed to achieve the budgetary targets required by the Eurozone, because we recognize and respect that the Eurozone has rules. However, we reserve the right to decide–for us to choose as a sovereign government—how to allocate the tax burdens to achieve the required fiscal targets.

I truly believe that it is the sovereign right of a government to choose to raise taxes on profitable business instead of cutting the allowance of the lowest-tier pensions, the EKAS, to achieve budgetary targets. If a sovereign government does not have the right to choose equivalent measures to achieve the required targets, then we are adopting an extreme and undemocratic approach, where countries subject to a program should not hold elections, and governments should instead be appointed, technocrats should be appointed and they should be responsible for all decisions.

I would like to inform the Parliament that indeed, you are right that there are distortions in Greece that should be eliminated, such as early pensions. We took the initiative, without anyone telling us to do so, to state that we want to abolish early retirement in a country that is in such a dire financial position.

Reforms, therefore, are necessary, and our commitment to necessary fiscal adjustment—so that we can have surpluses and not deficits—this commitment is a given. We reserve the right, however, to choose how to redistribute the burdens, which is something I believe we should be able to do, and I am certain that most of you will agree with me on this point.

Honorable Members of Parliament, the following question was posed during our discussions today: “Do you have a secret plan for Greece to leave the Eurozone?” Let me begin by noting that during the previous week, the vast majority of European politicians and officials made statements saying that a ‘NO’ vote automatically meant a Greek exit from the euro. The Greek people were aware of this when they were asked to vote, when they went to the polls. And they nevertheless produced a result that surprised some. So, my honest answer is–If my intention was for Greece to leave the euro, I would not have made the statements that I did, and interpret the outcome of the referendum–not as a mandate to break with Europe, but as a mandate to strengthen the negotiating effort to reach a better deal–immediately after the polls closed. A more credible agreement. A financially sustainable and socially just agreement. This is the objective. I have no other hidden agenda. I’ve laid my cards on the table.

Finally, I would like to address the comments made, especially by those who used the strongest rhetoric, a polemic rhetoric, about our inability to respond to the solidarity of the European partners. Certainly, lending is certainly a form of solidarity. There is no doubt about it. But we want a sustainable program, exactly because we want to be able to pay back what we have borrowed. And when we ask for debt reduction, we ask for this reduction exactly because we want to be able to make good on those loans and not to be constantly obliged to seek new loans in order to repay previous loans.

And I want to remind you, Mr. Weber that the strongest example of solidarity in modern European history occurred in 1953 when your country was indebted and looted following two world wars, and Europe and the European people demonstrated exceptional solidarity at the London Summit in 1953. When they decided to write off 60% of Germany’s debt and they included a growth clause. This was the most important moment of solidarity in modern European history.

I heard my friend Guy Verhofstadt – last year we were fellow candidates for the Presidency of the European Commission and we know each other well and are friendly – wondering “how will you face them, with what reforms, you did not propose reforms, what have you done”? I would like to answer: Indeed during these five months we have been negotiating more than we have been governing. Given the financial asphyxiation–our priority, our concern, our thought is how will we manage to keep the Greek economy afloat. However, we have accomplished quite a bit, my dear friend Guy.

We were the ones, after three years, who took the notorious Lagarde list head on, the list that some Ministers from the previous governments had shoved in back of their desk drawers.

And we were the ones who tried, and brought to justice, many of those who had evaded paying taxes. The previous governments did no such thing.

We were the ones that made an agreement with Switzerland to compel Greeks who sent their money abroad to pay taxes.

We were the ones who established a law limiting triangular trades. No previous government had done so.

We were the ones who asked media owners to pay their taxes. No previous government had done so.

We were the ones who strengthened customs controls, in order to tackle smuggling.

Of course, we are obliged—and plan–to do much more. We have not had the time to do much. And we ask for your support to change Greece. It is our common responsibility to change Greece, and we will be judged on this.

In closing, I want say we all realize that our discussion is not exclusively about one country. It does not exclusively concern one country. It is about the future of the Eurozone and Europe. And here, two diametrically opposed strategies about the future of European integration clash. Let’s all assume our responsibilities.

The Greek government – and I want to highlight this – despite the ideological differences, despite issues that divide us within the country – at a critical moment for our nation, was able to unite. Yesterday, all the leaders of the political parties met with the President of the Republic; they were at the same table, and we agreed on a framework for our positions. Based on this framework, tomorrow we will once again submit concrete proposals for a sustainable and fair agreement, reform proposals, credible reforms.

Finally, however, I would like to close with the following: Many of you have referred to ancient Greek tragedy. I fully respect the laws governing the EU and the Eurozone. Without laws no one can move forward. But since you referred to ancient Greek tragedy, let me inform you that one of the most important ancient playwrights, Sophocles, in his masterpiece “Antigone”, taught us that there are times when the supreme law, which is even superior to the laws of people, is justice. And I think that now, is exactly such a time.

Source: / RedGlobe