Greece and the best way to resolve the ongoing Greek crisis were hotly debated in plenary on 8 July in the presence of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. While some MEPs criticised him for his lack of concrete proposals, others praised him while some urged him to take his country out of the eurozone. The debate also took into account the conclusions of the recent European Council on 25-26 June and the euro summit on 7 July.
Council President Donald Tusk said about Greece: “There is now a race against time to rebuild trust. I will not discuss the rights or the wrongs of the Greek referendum. Everyone has their own perceptions. It is necessary at this stage to move on. Let bygones be bygones.”
Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, said: “In the light of the Greek crisis the answer cannot be to turn away from the need to take the economic and monetary union further.”
The Greek crisis is a manifestation of the eurozone’s inability to find a long lasting solution, said Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. He pointed out that EU financial help never got to the Greek people but instead went to save the banks. This was the reason why austerity programmes had no social acceptance in Greece: “The simple fact is that we have to face and accept that the majority of the Greek people feels that they have no other choice other than to demand that they be given a way out of this impasse and this dead end,” he said. Tspiras said Greece had been turned into an “austerity laboratory” but “the experiment was not a success: poverty has soared, and so has public debt.”
Manfred Weber (EPP, Germany) criticised Tsipras’ lack of proposals as a basis for negotiations: “You engage in provocation, we engage in compromise. You are looking at failure, we are looking for success. You don’t like Europe, we love Europe.” He added: “You are talking about dignity, but you are consistently not telling your people the truth and this is not dignified”. Weber pointed out that there are five countries in the EU with lower standards of living than Greece, and asked: “How can you tell those people Greece cannot stand more cuts”.
Gianni Pittella (S&D, Italy) told Tsipras. “I think the conditions are there for an agreement to be reached this week and it is now up to the government to decide on reforms to support employment, combating corruption, tax evasion, all of these measures that are required, not because Europe would impose them, but because they would benefit Greek citizens. And I think it is also right to discuss restructuring debt.”
Ryszard Legutko (ECR, Poland) said: “Something is rotten in Greece but something is rotten in the EU too.” He added that if the current “theatre” continues we will be confused on what to focus: “Who and what we are trying to save, is it the currency union, is it Greek society, the credibility of the government, the creditors, the reputation of Angela Merkel or the infallibility of the ever closer union?”
Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE, Belgium) stressed the need for a clear aned concrete roadmap: “For five years we have been sleepwalking toward a Grexit with the help and with the support of the people of the extreme right. And these last months we have been running toward a Grexit.” He added: “And it is not you and it is not we, who are going to pay the bill. It’s the ordinary Greek citizens who will pay the bill of a Grexit.” He also called on Tsipras to end existing privileges in his country.
Gabriele Zimmer (GUE/NGL, Germany) said: “Let’s find solutions which are sustainable and will last and not just give us short-term gratification so we can stand up and ask other people to do stuff. Let’s respect people and Europe and let’s respect the decision taken on Sunday.”
Rebecca Harms (Greens/EFA, Germany) told Tsipras that she was expecting concrete ideas for reforms and a better future and not only an speech advocating to put an end to corruption and other problems. She reminded him that “everything has to be decided this week” and added that “democracy and Putin do not match”.
Nigel Farage (EFDD, UK) criticised the introduction of the euro: ”If you try and force together different people or different economies without first seeking the consent of those people, it is unlikely to work and the plan has failed. This is not just Greece we are talking about today, the whole of the Mediterranean now finds itself in the wrong currency.”
Marine Le Pen (ENF, France) told Tsipras: “The euro and austerity are Siamese twins. Your people will not escape from austerity without leaving the euro.”
Eleftherios Synadinos, a non-attached member from Greece, invoked the millions of dead people as the result of the German occupation of Greece in World War 2 as well as the debt owed to Greece from that period. “Why are you refusing to include this in the question of debt?” he asked, saying that Greek people can also exist and survive outside the eurozone.
In his concluding remarks Tsipras said: “We saw today a fruitful debate with contrasting views, highly political but not in the form of state against state. The European Parliament has to play a more active role.” The Greek Prime Minister said that contrary to some MEPs’ accusations, Greece had indeed come up with proposals for reforms and clamped down hard on tax evasion. “Proposals include a strong commitment to achieve fiscal objectives. However, we have a sovereign right to decide to increase taxation on profit-making businesses and not on pensions,” he said. Tsipras pointed out that Germany was on the receiving side of the greatest possible solidarity in 1953 when 60% of its debt was written off. Citing his respect for European laws, he concluded by quoting Sophocles: “There are times when the greatest law of all human laws is justice for human beings.”
Juncker said “It was a mistake to leave the negotiation table. If we hadn’t broken off, we would have come to an agreement.” The Commission President added: “I always stood up against cuts in pension levels that would have affected the poorest. We have to describe things as they really took place behind these closes doors.”
Tusk stressed that time was running out: “Today we need unity, not because unity is a beautiful idea, but because it is indispensable in order to take concrete decisions. Without unity on Greece we wake up in four days in a different Europe. This is really and truly the final wake-up call for Greece but also for us. Our last chance.”