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.