Alexis Tsipras: I would like to welcome President Juncker to Greece. Together with Jean-Claude, a real friend of Greece, during hard times and not easy, we had the opportunity today to discuss in depth, as always, honestly about all current issues concerning European, regional developments and of course, to discuss the course of the Greek economy.
First of all, we agreed on something which, I think, is very important: That in fact this visit is the last official visit to Greece of Memoranda. Not because he does not intend to return soon – I believe he will come back soon – but because Greece will soon return to what we call European regularity. It will successfully complete the third and final program and will come back after eight years, eight difficult years, as a typical Eurozone country.
The Greek people, with sacrifices and deprivations these past eight years, claimed and achieved, firstly, the country to remain in the hard core of the EU, in the Eurozone, but not only that. Rationalize its public finances, proceed with a multitude of very important structural reforms, which are the guarantee that we are not just exiting adjustment programs, but we are setting the conditions of no return. Not to return to the difficulties we have experienced and which led us to these programs.
And all these efforts allow us to succeed and be optimistic that we are close to achieving what we call a clear exit from the Memoranda. That is, an exit from the adjustment programs without the need for a reliance credit line, as it was the case for other countries that were in support programs and successfully completed them.
And most importantly, with the decisive contribution of the European Commission and President Juncker, we are also close to a very important goal, to the final settlement of the pending issues concerning debt relief, Greek public debt, according to decisions already taken at the Eurogroup.
I believe that the key, to what we call a clear exit from the program, is none other than the over-performance of the Greek economy. A performance that surprised, I believe, all our partners in the last three years and played a decisive role in restoring the lost credibility of the country towards its partners.
Because it is true that Greece, the Greek governments promised a lot, for many years, but they did not respect many of their commitments.
During our governance, we have repeatedly exceeded our budgetary targets, something that was unthinkable in the past.
With the economic policy that we apply, we have built up a momentum in the fiscal field. A stable framework of recurrent budgetary over-performance. Every year, we achieve a primary surplus well above 3.5% of GDP. This year, we had the highest in the Eurozone. That, I repeat, restore credibility, but also pre-empts the achievement of the objectives of the program for the following years, especially for 2018 and 2019. That no bona fide can question it any more.
I would say that this is an achievement of the Greek people. But, at the same time, for a delicate economic balance that shows that what the Greek economy needs now is, not to add new austerity measures, but perhaps to remove some, so that growth is more prolific. This is something that is, also, our common goal.
Now I would like to emphasize on something: Restoring regularity means recovering our sovereignty within the Eurozone. It does not mean that we return to the past. It does not mean that we repeat the mistakes and behaviors that contributed to the crisis.
In this direction, structural reforms in the public sector, in the tax authorities, in the judiciary and in many other areas, not only should not be overturned but must be deepened.
At the same time, our efforts to heal the wounds of the crisis and to fight injustices and inequalities must also be intensified.
What the country needs is a stable prospect of fair and sustainable growth.
In this direction, we are already working on our strategic plan and discussing it with our partners. It is a new powerful, socially just and sustainable productive and developmental model. Pillar of which can only be the human capital.
Working conditions, the institutional framework of working relations, but also its crucial role in productive reconstruction and the formation of an outward-looking, technologically advanced and internationally competitive economy.
Of course, the next day of Greece is part of the next day of the Eurozone and the EU. in total. We need now that the Eurozone is recovering to protect it from the possibility of a future crisis.
The cycle of inertia in Europe must be closed. The far-right turn and the rise of populism threaten it. For this reason, the reform of the Eurozone must be the first step towards reuniting the European plan together with the peoples of Europe.
The proposals made by the European Commission, I believe, form the necessary commonplace to move all together.
We support them; even though we have more advanced proposals, yet we understand that they are this commonplace, and they have common points with our plan for what we call the democratization of the Eurozone.
For us, reforming the Eurozone means strengthening its social and democratic characteristics.
It means convergence and consistency. It means growth instead of austerity. It means a new institutional architecture that will slowly replace transnational with supranational institutions.
We agree with the proposal for a Eurozone finance minister. At the same time, we proposed a Minister for Social Protection. We need a strong budget and a Eurozone budget as an automatic stabilizer, focusing on combating unemployment.
We also need to Europeanize the crisis management institution. A European Monetary Fund, as a lender of last resort for the Eurozone member states, to support the European Deposit Guarantee Scheme. A Fund, within the European Treaties, under parliamentary and democratic control.
Today, however, we have not only discussed matters of economy and the future of the Eurozone. We also talked about regional and international developments.
The European Union, I believe, only has a future if it upgrades its international and regional role, as a force of peace, stability and security, constantly protecting international and European law.
And Greece – as it has been the case in recent years – has played a central role in this endeavor.
A key role, not only because of its geopolitical position in an increasingly flammable but important region. Not only because of its position but also because of the historical choice of the Greek people.
This is proven and demonstrated by the Greek people, by supporting – despite the great difficulties they faced in previous years – by supporting efforts, joint efforts to address the refugee crisis and despite the closure of the northern borders, we supported the hundreds of thousands of refugees who arrived and still arrive in our islands, defending European borders and European values.
We also proved this with our efforts – despite the difficulties – to find a solution to the Cyprus issue, a fair and viable solution.
This is what we prove by being decisive, but also calm, in addressing the dangerous challenges in the Aegean on the part of Turkey over our sovereign rights. But, at the same time, insisting on dialogue and understanding with our neighbors.
This is demonstrated by building initiatives in the Balkans in favor of Western Balkans’ co-development, dialogue and European perspective.
This is evidenced by the fact that, for the first time in such a decisive way, we can find a mutually acceptable solution to the issue of the name of FYROM, with guarantees that this issue will be finally resolved. But also solutions to the European perspective of Albania.
Jean-Claude, if I’m not mistaken, you have said, in my opinion, something very important that we, Europeans, will either succeed together or we will fail together.
I think we now know very well in Greece the important role you , personally, played so that we can succeed.
And today, I think, more than ever, because we have endured, despite the great difficulties that have passed, we have a great opportunity in front of us. To prove that we can succeed together.
And I’m sure this opportunity, this time; we will not let it go.
With these thoughts, I once again want to thank you for your presence here and for the very substantial discussion we had, searching for constructive solutions to find direct outlets and find ourselves in a much better position than the one we we have been in the past.
Thank you very much.
Jean-Claude Juncker: Mr. Prime Minister, dear Alexis, ladies and gentlemen, I promise you that I will be much more brief than your Prime Minister. Firstly, [because] it is hot, secondly I sweat like a madman, and thirdly, I have to speak before the Parliament as well, and I would not like to say here what I should say again in Parliament.
I am here. You are well aware of my deep and steady friendship with Greece and its courageous people. Together, we managed to find a prospect, because before the end of this summer, to use the term Alexis, Greece would become a country as normal as the rest of the Eurozone.
On August 20, it will be the end of Greece’s third and final support program. So together we can go back to the pages of these last difficult times.
We will soon have to finish the fourth and final evaluation of the program and the sooner, the better. We should focus our attention on the issue of debt relief and I would like all states to respect the obligations they have undertaken.
Greece, obviously, should continue with the work program that has been adopted. I am also very pleased with the way in which Greece is progressing and observing the commitments it has made.
Greece’s performance is excellent and the sacrifices of the Greeks were exceptional, and we have before us the first results. Growth has returned to Greece and to Europe. Unemployment, though still high, has fallen. And Greece has been able to reduce its fiscal deficit which was 15.1% at the end of 2009 and now it has turned to a surplus of 0.8% in 2017. It is quite remarkable and we need to strengthen this result.
And I am totally satisfied with the investment plan, which also has my name and finds so much support in Greece. A program worth more than € 270 billion, and Greece was able to make the most of the funds with investments of € 9.2 billion.
And this proves that when Greece undertakes commitments it knows its success. Indeed, it is committed to its promises. And Greece now has the highest absorption rate of the Structural Funds and the European Investment Fund.
As for the economy, the news is good. Prospects are positive.
We also discussed the issue of Immigration. On this subject, I will speak in more detail to Parliament.
I leave you with these. As I said at the beginning, I will be very brief.
Giorgos Panteleakis (ERT): Good afternoon. The Greek economy is steadily moving on growth rates, outperforming the goals that have been set. So, here we have a given: Since we are leaving the program in August, do you think the country is heading towards a clear exit? What is the position here of the Commission? Is there a credit line issue? The position of the Greek government – as the Prime Minister has said – is clear. What is the Commission’s position, then? And given the over-performance of the economy, but also with these surpluses, the big surpluses, how can the institutions still be more austerity for 2019 and 2020? I would like both your views.
Jean-Clint Juncker: I have never been a fan of blind and rigid austerity. There will be no reliance credit line because we want to do everything so that Greece’s exit from the program is the clearest and the cleanest. I try to give brief answers if you have not understood this.
Alexis Tsipras: Do you want my opinion on this as well? We are working so that there is a clean exit, both clear and clean. We should not get confused with the words: Clarity, purity, what does all this mean? They mean that after eight years, there is no reason for Greece not to return to the status like all the other countries of the Eurozone, let alone when it has succeeded not only to rationalize public finances but also a series of structural reforms, I believe – and I will say Jean-Claude – we are proud because no other country has done so in such a short period of time.
So I think, as I said before, that the extraordinary fiscal performance of the Greek economy is our key to move on to what we call “clear and clean exit from the memoranda.” I also believe – and I will say – mistakes were made throughout the previous period, not with the responsibility of the European Commission. There were excessive demands. This has been proven over the last two years, since on the one hand these high surpluses are our key to restore our credibility, but it also demonstrates the failure of some of the institutions in terms of their forecasts necessary measures to meet the objectives. When you have two and three times the target results, it means some were exaggerated. And it means that now with a clear mind, not only do we not have to follow their advice for more austerity, but we have to see how we can ease the economy from unbearable taxation in order to accelerate growth. As our common goal now, given that we are meeting the budgetary targets, is to accelerate the pace of growth. I believe that in this objective we are on the same page as our European partners.
Corinna Jessen (ZDF): A question for President Juncker: To what extent has the European Union been convinced, or whether you are convinced that the development model just mentioned by the Prime Minister is sufficient and effective for the following years when leaving the program?
Jean-Claude Juncker: Growth has returned to Greece. Growth has returned to Europe. Therefore, all the reforms adopted by the government and the Greek Parliament are following the right course. And now we have to see that the same will apply to the other reforms that will be adopted.