Mr. President of the European Parliament,
Honourable Members of the European Parliament,
Thank you very much for the honour of being invited to share my thoughts and my concerns about the future of Europe and to discuss them with you.
It is important and symbolic that this opportunity is given to me just a few days after the conclusion of the economic programs, that lasted eight years, and Greece’s clean exit from them.
Last time that I had the honour to address you in 2015, Greece was in great turmoil.
The policy that previous governments had, of creating deficits, the wasting of public funds, as well as widespread corruption, had pushed the country to the “rocky shores” of bankruptcy.
At the same time however, the institutions’ inability to prioritise the necessary structural reforms in the first two programmes, coupled with the obsession of some of those institutions on a recipe of extreme fiscal adjustment, had led the country to the brink of social explosion and economic suffocation.
From 2010 to 2014, Greece lost 1/4 of its national wealth.
Unemployment, poverty and social exclusion rose and so did public debt.
Foreign investment had vanished, while thousands of young scientists had left the country.
The economic crisis of Greece and the failure to manage it, had however also turned into a political crisis of Europe.
And at that time, when I spoke before you, half of you applauded me, the other half disapproved, but few – very few among you – believed that I had any chance of succeeding.
And yet, Greece made it.
Three years later it is a different country.
From part of the problem and the source of the crisis, it has become part of the solution for Europe.
And the clean exit from the last three-year program, is mainly a success of the Greek people, who struggled and held strong.
Who made great sacrifices for the country, so that it may remain in the heart of Europe.
But, it is also a success for Europe as a whole.
Proving that Europe can overcome crises, on the basis of a spirit of solidarity and cooperation.
Through this adventure, we come out even stronger.
Today we stand on our feet once more and look towards the future with optimism.
This is because – for the first time after the outbreak of the crisis – the sacrifices of the Greek people have paid off.
We have put our public finances in order. We proceeded with deep changes and reforms that should have been made decades ago. We escaped the spiral of recession and brought the economy back on track towards growth.
We proceeded with projects and investments that make Greece a commercial, transit and energy hub for the wider region.
But, at the same time, we proved that there is a way out of crisis that does not involve destroying the social fabric.
We supported the weakest. We stopped the humanitarian crisis. We gave access to the health system to millions of uninsured people, but at the same time we achieved primary surpluses that no one could believe three years ago.
-because we controlled rampant tax evasion, we stopped over-spending and corruption in public health and in public procurements.
-because we proceeded to key reforms, such as the unification of social security funds and the rationalization of the social security system.
And today, not only do we come out of memoranda but also, through the recent agreement which ensured the sustainability of the public debt, we are regaining our economic sovereignty and our rightful place – the place we deserve – in Europe.
Last year Greece returned to growth, with forecasts for this year pointing to a 2,5% growth rate.
For the last three years we have been champions in the absorption of European structural funds, while in 2017 we were the second EU country in terms of absorption of funds from the Juncker Plan. Foreign investment reached 2,6 billion Euros, which is the best performance of the last decade.
Over a three-year period we managed to reduce unemployment by more than 7%.
We created more than 300.000 jobs, the majority of which are full time.
We supported public hospitals, we are implementing an integrated public primary healthcare system, while we drastically reduced vacant posts in schools and increased expenditure for scientific research to 1% of GDP.
At the same time, we are fighting to convert the “brain drain” to a “brain gain”, providing incentives to young entrepreneurs.
We have also implemented the “Social Solidarity Income”- the Greek version of Minimum Guaranteed Income,- from which more than 650.000 citizens benefit, today.
We are reducing poverty rates and social exclusion by creating a web of social policies which protect the more vulnerable people.
At the same time, defying a widespread political trend, Greece is one of the few countries that has strengthened the individual rights and freedoms of its citizens.
For the first time, citizenship is granted to second-generation immigrants who were born and grew up in Greece.
We established the legal recognition of gender identity, as well as the civil partnership and the fostering of children by same-sex couples.
We abolished the compulsory application of Sharia law for the Muslim minority.
And we are finally completing the construction of a Mosque in Athens.
Furthermore, in a Europe where racism and xenophobia are rampant, Greece has done its best to manage the enormous refugee flows, in full respect of humanitarian values and international law.
While other countries were unilaterally violating European decisions and raising fences, Greece – though financially wounded – resisted the rhetoric of hate.
Local communities showed the world what humanity should stand for, while civil society was effectively mobilised in cooperation with State Institutions, the EU and international Organizations.
Today our Asylum Service – which did not even exist 5 years ago- deals with the highest number of applications in Europe, taking population into account.
At the same time, Greece, with its important geopolitical position, decisively contributes to peace and stability in a very destabilized region.
Despite the problems of instability and nationalist fervour in Turkey, we managed to keep channels of communication open, safeguarding peace in the Aegean, promoting collaborative solutions to the refugee problem and starting discussions on a fair and sustainable solution for the Cyprus issue.
In the destabilized region of the East Mediterranean, we constitute, together with Cyprus, the only European pillar of stability.
We are enhancing our multilateral cooperation with Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Jordan.
And at the same time we are deepening Balkan cooperation and co- development, also by unlocking the European perspective of the Western Balkans. In this respect, the historic Prespes agreement with our northern neighbour is the pinnacle of our efforts, while the continuing dialogue with Albania is particularly important.
After 26 years of the destructive dominance of nationalism, we managed, together with the Prime Minister of FYROM, Mr. Zaev, to turn a page and reach a mutually acceptable agreement.
Without imposing and using force.
But on the basis of diplomacy and dialogue.
An agreement that could become a model for the settlement of disputes in our region.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The exit of our country from the Last Fiscal Adjustment Program does not mean that Greece returns to its past.
On the contrary, we are determined not to repeat the mistakes and the behaviours that contributed to the crisis.
The end of economic programs does not constitute a return to the past, but a historical break from it.
It is a new beginning, which consolidates stability and security, heals wounds, gradually corrects injustices and opens new growth perspectives for our people and our country.
In the coming period we will continue to implement the agreed reforms, with particular emphasis on further streamlining the functioning of the state institutions, the modernising of public administration, tackling bureaucracy, as well as deepening democratic reforms, including through the impending constitutional reform.
We will remain on the path of fiscal adjustment, while at the same time setting fair growth and employment protection as our priorities.
Greece and the Greek people have proven during the last years how deeply they are attached to the idea of the European integration.
By enduring and insisting on the European course of the country, even when Europe itself or, at least, its predominant rhetoric, often hurt and degraded the Greek people.
Let’s try thus to draw our conclusions from this eight-year Greek crisis that we are leaving behind us.
And mainly to draw conclusions as to what kind of Europe we want.
And how we will shield it against possible new crises in the future.
The stakes for Europe today are of an existential nature.
The management of the economic crisis, the refugee crisis, as well as of the security crisis, has highlighted enormous deficits and contradictions.
And it tends to transform these crises into a structural crisis of the European integration project.
EU’s failure to give democratic and functional answers to contemporary challenges will have – as an inevitable consequence – the triumph of chauvinism and the resurgence of nationalist rivalries.
It will render it a shattered continent, without unity, without cohesion, without an international role and without any perspective.
During the economic crisis, the EU, instead of becoming more democratic by taking advantage of the institutional and political tools provided by the Lisbon Treaty, has become more technocratic and ethnocentric.
With critical decisions being taken behind closed doors by informal bodies which are not accountable to the European citizens.
With technocratic bodies, like the troika, holding onto the keys of economic sovereignty, while not being accountable to anyone.
The European Commission, the European Parliament and even the European Council, have been pushed to the side, behind the Eurogroup – which is not an institutionalized European body – and the technical groups of the ECB and IMF technocrats.
Fiscal fetishism in the management of the economic crisis has further increased socio-economic inequalities, both among member-states as well as within them.
It exhausted large layers of society economically and caused widespread insecurity.
The failure of this neoliberal management of the crisis, nourished the monster of chauvinism and far-right populism.
It brought the Far-Right out from isolation where it stood – condemned by History – and back into the political arena.
The refugee crisis that followed, confirmed Europe’s inability to move forward, given that a large part of its members does not share its founding values.
the logic of isolation prevails over cooperation,
the logic of short-sighted self-interest prevails over responsibility sharing.
the logic of national retreat prevails over European solidarity.
and the poison of hatred and xenophobia rises again in the heart of Europe, 70 years after the global tragedy caused by fascism.
Because today, we are not only facing the electoral rise of some extreme forces of the nationalist, populist Far-Right.
But we are also facing the integration of a xenophobic and chauvinist agenda in the democratic political spectrum.
Whereby racism and xenophobia are becoming the dominant political rhetoric amongst traditional conservative forces and beyond.
Shaping the balance of power in some countries of critical importance.
And this development, if not stopped, is the one that threatens Europe with disintegration.
Some of you, back in 2015, were afraid of SYRIZA and the Left, that struggled for a better Europe.
You believed that whoever casts doubt on today’s tendency in Europe – the dominance of neoliberalism and increase of social inequalities – constitutes a risk for our common project.
Those of you who believed that, should today admit that you were wrong.
The threat to Europe originates not from those who fight to change it but from those who fight to abolish it…
those who are on the other side of the humanist ideas of solidarity and cooperation between peoples.
All of us, who believe in this vision of change in Europe, have to put aside our differences in facing this great danger.
We must not let the European idea be crushed between catastrophic neoliberalism and the nightmarish spectre of the Far-Right.
We have to be resolute and underline that the only way to save European integration is to forge it again through bold reforms in the direction of democracy, transparency and social justice.
To support the perspective of a better Europe.
With European solutions to tEuropean challenges.
On the refugee issue and immigration, on climate change, on security and on the democratic reform of the Eurozone.
So that hope prevails over the fear of the far-right.
What we need now in Europe is not less solidarity and more borders, but rather a new social contract for social cohesion and the prosperity of our peoples.
Deepening political integration, a stronger European Parliament and European Institutions under democratic and social control.
What we need is not a new closed group of decision-makers supporting austerity and imposing discipline, but a Eurozone orientated to growth, with mechanisms to counterbalance inequalities.
A Multiannual Financial Framework that will support social cohesion and convergence.
A legally binding European Pillar for Social Rights.
The revision of the Common European Asylum system with fair burden sharing.
A common European Civil Protection Mechanism to face natural disasters.
The promotion of dialogue with Turkey as well as its European accession path, so that it respects international law and returns to the path of democratic reforms.
And a common EU foreign policy that will contribute to the resolution of existing crises.
Honourable Members of the Parliament,
Greece, during the last three years, managed to transform itself from part of the problem, to part of the solution in Europe.
It overcame the economic crisis and shouldered with dignity the refugee crisis on behalf of the whole Europe.
It opened new roads to promoting friendship between peoples, through a foreign policy that made Greece a catalyst of cooperation and stability in a widely destabilized region, in the South-East Mediterranean and the Balkans.
All these concrete examples of Greek policy in the last three years, constitute a positive message in the cloudy sky surrounding the European Union.
We proved that there is a way, if one believes in it and fights hard enough.
This is the way for the Europe of tomorrow.
We have difficult struggles ahead of us.
The European elections of next May will be something more than just another electoral battle.
It will be a political battle of principles and values.
For the defeat of extreme neoliberalism and of the far-right populism that threaten Europe.
For the re-forging of the European idea, in order to promote unity and solidarity amongst the European peoples.
In this struggle, all progressive, democratic and pro-European forces have a duty to stand side by side on the same side of history.
And not let Europe slide back into the past.