Greek crisis: Tsipras and Syriza blasted in EU parliament

MEPs have urged Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras to bring forward concrete proposals to solve Athens' ongoing debt crisis.

By Julie Levy-Abegnoli

08 Jul 2015

MEPs excitedly gathered in plenary on Wednesday, as Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras entered the chamber to a mix of cheers, boos and deputies branding 'oxi' posters - the Greek word for 'no' and a reference to last Sunday's referendum on further austerity measures in exchange for a new bailout.

Last week, Athens missed the deadline to repay a €1.6bn debt to the international monetary fund (IMF), with another deadline coming up on 20 July to repay the European central bank (ECB).

Over the past few weeks, Tsipras has held a number of talks with leaders of the so-called troika - the commission, IMF and ECB - and the eurogroup, to try and find solutions to what some observers fear may lead to a 'Grexit' - Athens leaving the eurozone.


Addressing MEPs, the Hellenic prime minister complained that, "in many European countries, austerity programmes have been put into effect, but nowhere have they been as harsh and long-lasting as in Greece."

"It's no exaggeration to say that in the past five years, my country has been transformed into an austerity laboratory. However, this experiment has not been a success."

He added, "today the majority of the Greek people - and this is a simple fact which we have to face and accept - feel they have no other choice than to demand to be given a way out of this dead-end and they have expressed this in the most democratic way possible."

He assured parliament that, "in the next two or three days we have undertaken to bring forward concrete proposals in detail, and we are confident we will meet our obligations."

Tsipras also underlined that, "the proposal by the Greek government for the funding of its obligations and restructuring of its debt is not designed to provide an extra burden for European taxpayers - the money given to Greece never trickled down to the Greek people, it was money to save Greek and European banks."

And perhaps in an attempt to appease MEPs, he insisted, "we are determined not to have a clash with Europe, but to tackle head-on the establishment in our country and change the mindset which has taken Europe down."

However, he did point out that, "the Greek crisis is only a manifestation of the inability of the eurozone to find a lasting solution to the self-fuelling debt crisis, and what we need now is a European solution - this is not exclusively a Greek problem. […] Let us not allow Europe to become divided."

MEPs hit out at Tsipras

Unfortunately, Tsipras' speech failed to impress deputies. European People's Party chair Manfred Weber accused the prime minister of "destroying confidence in Europe".

"Look around this chamber and you'll see that to the far-left and the far-right you have a lot of applause - the extremists of Europe are supporting you. It seems to me you are surrounding yourself with the wrong friends", he told him.

The German MEP also urged Tsipras not to "lie to people when talking about a debt haircut - the banks won't be the ones paying for it, it will be paid for by Portugal, Spain and nurses in Poland."

"Europe is not a sum of nationalist views, it's about compromise and sadly you have departed from that path. As political representatives we are at loggerheads with you. You look to provocation, and we look to compromise", he concluded.

Chair of parliament's Progressive Alliance of the Socialists and Democrats group Gianni Pittella was slightly more conciliatory, insisting that "Europe without Greece is unthinkable" and that "Greece is an essential part of Europe and of the eurozone."

"Today is not the time for friends to apologise to each other. What is at stake is too serious for us to throw around recriminations and to turn this house into a football stadium - this is not the time for divisions in Europe."

"We should be above party politics. What is at stake is Europe's future, which includes Greece", highlighted the Italian deputy.

European Conservatives and Reformists group vice-chair Ryszard Legutko said, "something is rotten in the state of Greece, but something is rotten in the EU too."

"The original sin is the currency union, and today we are reaping its sour fruits", he told colleagues before asking, "who and what are we trying to save? Is it the currency union, the Greek government, [German chancellor] Angela Merkel or the infallibility of an ever-closer union? We can't save it all."


Lessons from Verhofstadt

Guy Verhofstadt, chair of parliament's Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group, was particularly agitated, telling Tsipras, "I'm angry because you talk about reforms, but we never see any concrete proposals."

"We are sleepwalking towards a Grexit - in the last few months, we've been running towards a Grexit."

The Belgian MEP stressed that, "if we want to avoid a Grexit, there is only one possible way - to come forward with a credible reform package in the next 48 hours with a roadmap, a clear calendar and end dates for the different reforms Greece desperately needs."

He even suggested a series of steps for Athens to take, saying, "there are five things Greece needs. First, to end its clientelistic system. Second, to downsize the public sector. Third, to transform the public banks into a healthy private financial sector. Fourth, to open up jobs and fifth, end the privileges offered to ship owners, the military and political parties who receive money daily from public banks that are bankrupt."

Verhofstadt then asked Tsipras, "how do you want to be remembered? As an electoral accident who made his people poorer, or as a real revolutionary reformer?"


Seeking a European solution

Meanwhile, Confederal Group of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left chair Gabi Zimmer said, "it's about time we looked into the history books and shouldered the responsibility towards people in Europe, and not engage in one-upmanship and pretend that we know it all, or have a monopoly on wisdom."

Rebecca Harms, co-chair of parliament's Greens/European Free Alliance group, told Tsipras, "you are the strongest prime minister in Greece in my personal recollection and you have to be the person who manages to provide the prospect of reforms for your people, but in an orderly manner."

"We need to find a solution just not for the Greeks, but one than can be applied to other countries in crisis."

"I know you can't stop time, but clearly everything must be decided this week. Please listen to those who earnestly wish to see a European solution."


Calls for 'Grexit'

Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy chair Nigel Farage believed that there were "irreconcilable cultural differences between Greece and Germany" and that "the European project is beginning to die."

"The continent is now divided from north to south; there is a new Berlin wall and it's called the euro."

He insisted that "it would be madness to continue on this course" and told Tsipras, "if you have courage, lead the Greek people out of the eurozone with your head held high - give your people the leadership and the hope that they crave."

Marine Le Pen, co-chair of the newly formed Europe of Nations and Freedom group, was of the same view, saying, "the euro and austerity are Siamese twins - they are joined at the hip and you cannot get your people out of austerity unless you escape the euro. Greece must negotiate a way out of this clamp."

The Greek government has now submitted a proposal for financial aid under the European stability mechanism, though its details remain unclear.


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