Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ speech to Parliament regarding the July 5th referendum

June 28, 2015 | categories : Prime Minister, Speeches

Ladies and gentlemen Members of Parliament,

Today’s meeting has historical significance. I could take time to answer the Leader of the Opposition, but I don’t think it makes any sense to do so—given the important historical nature of the issue before us. A petty confrontation would serve no purpose. There isn’t a single Greek citizen who’s not familiar with your [the Opposition’s] actions and their consequences, your motivation to leave office–and had you remained, the measures you would of signed for: totaling not eight, but sixteen billion euro in cuts, based on the primary surpluses that had been determined by the institutions, at 3% and 4.5%.

But going into detail serves no purpose. Right now, we are making history. Right now, we must assume our responsibilities, and be straightforward and honest. What purpose will yet another parliamentary confrontation serve, well past midnight now, a fact that you bear responsibility for since you insisted that the President not be present during your speech?

Ladies and gentlemen Members of Parliament,

This day will be remembered as a bleak day in history, a bleak day in our common European, as some who are outside of and beyond any institutional process, outside of and beyond common regulations and treaties of the European Union, chose to convene the Council of Finance Ministers of the Eurozone and exclude one member. This is a very unfortunate development. Our country is a full member, and was excluded from a key process—something that no one has the right to do.

This will be a black mark on European history—a day when one of the Finance Ministers was excluded from a European Council meeting, and the right of a sovereign people to democratically decide their future was called into question.

And what was the main message of the Finance Ministers–with the exception of course, of a few who adopted a different stance? The message was that they do not allow any breathing room for democracy. The Greek people must, therefore, respond with unity.

Ladies and gentlemen Members of Parliament,

In the birthplace of democracy, we will not ask Mr. Schäuble’s or Mr. Dijsselbloem’s permission to allow the Greek people to voice their opinion! We will not ask Mr. Schäuble’s and Mr. Dijsselbloem’s permission to protect and safeguard democracy. The referendum, which allows the sovereign Greek people to decide on their future, will take place as scheduled next Sunday, whether our partners agree or not.

The Greek people will sovereignly decide–and we will respect their verdict–whatever it may be. Above all, it is our duty is to defend the Greek constitution, popular sovereignty and the national independence of our country. We have a sacred duty to honor the struggles and sacrifices of the Greek people. We will defend democracy. We will defend popular sovereignty, but we will also defend Europe’s founding principles. And Europe has a long tradition of democracy, which was neither created by the Eurogroup nor the International Monetary Fund—who seem more intent on dividing Europe.

This tradition was built by the great European leaders: Konrad Adenauer, Helmut Schmidt, Willy Brandt, François Mitterrand, Altiero Spinelli, Enrico Berlinguer. This tradition was built through the people’s struggles. This tradition is Europe’s undisputed democratic acquis.

The expression of the people’s will through the use of referendums is not a new phenomenon in Europe. Referendums took place in several countries on the Maastricht Treaty, the Treaty of Lisbon and the European Constitution. So, why is a Greek referendum eliciting such a reaction?

Did anyone attempt to sway French citizens when they were deciding on a fundamental European Union issue – what can be more fundamental than the actual European Constitution, which they voted against – against holding a referendum? Did anyone attempt to dictate what the referendum’s question would be? Did anyone tell them that if they voted “No” on the European Constitution, they would essentially be voting in favor of their withdrawal from the European Union? So, why are some people today so afraid of the verdict of the Greek people, and why are they trying to use blackmail to prevent a referendum? They should consider that blackmail sometimes has the exact opposite effect. And I say this, because some people think that the issue of Greece is a game.

The dignity of a people, however, is not a game, ladies and gentlemen, a people that have been pillaged for five years now by unjust and brutal austerity programs. One and a half million unemployed, three million poor, thousands of padlocks, unemployment, young people leaving the country en masse. These circumstances did not come about during the last five months of intense and real negotiation. These occurred during the past five years of the Memorandum, which imposed harsh austerity – a tragedy that must finally be ended. With the verdict of the Greek people on January 25th, and with new verdict of the Greek people this coming Sunday, the stifling policies of the Memoranda must end once and for all.

We should be aware, however, that the greater the extent of the upheaval, of the reactions, or the blackmail, the greater the problem which cannot be hidden, or neatly explained away by the other side.

Perhaps they believe that by employing threats and blackmail, and by trying to create panic, that they will bend the will of a people seeking to live in dignity. They are making a big mistake. Greece cannot turn back, because our people want to live in dignity. What is the value that the credit rating agencies assign to the dignity of a people? How much do they think it’s worth? What is the going price for the dignity of a people on the stock market? With how many instalments, to repay unbearable and unsustainable debts, can one meet this price?

Yesterday they were blackmailing us with liquidity, today they are blackmailing us with the banks, fear, panic and scaremongering. Eventually, however, even blackmail attempts fail. I would like to remind you today of a great phrase by a politician from the New Deal era in the United States who had stated that “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The only thing that the Greek people have to fear today, after so many years of being pillaged, is fear itself. And I bring this up because already an incredible propaganda campaign of fear was launched–just last night–that will only escalate in the coming days, as Sunday approaches.

But they should know that sometimes, when the attempts to terrorize are so blatant, the end result is often the opposite of what was desired. People stand their ground. The Greek people – the previous generations – have gone through great difficulties, much worse than today’s. In the course of our modern history, our people have persevered: the Greek people know how to defy fear and resist it. We are a nation that loves peace. But when war is declared on us, we know how to fight and we know how to win.

Ladies and gentlemen Members of Parliament,

For five months, from our first days in office, we have been waging a tough and sincere fight on behalf of our people and our country, to end austerity and change Eurozone policy. We negotiated despite conditions of unprecedented extortion and financial asphyxiation, in order to implement the mandate that we were given.

Despite these conditions, every citizen of this country knows just how hard Greece has tried during these months, and that the Greek Government has made an honest and real effort to negotiate with determination, with dignity.

From day one, we have remained unwavering on the principle of mutual respect as first stipulated in February – if I remember correctly – by the French Minister of Finance, Michel Sapin. Respect for the verdict of the Greek people for change, and respect as well, for the common rules that unite us in the Eurozone. This was our guiding principle.

We negotiated with our cards on the table and with the desire for sincere cooperation, seeking a fair compromise, i.e. to reach a mutually beneficial agreement with our partners. I want to assure you that during these months, I personally did everything I could to attain this. At the end of the day, however, unfortunately, the extreme voices among the partners and the institutions prevailed.

Despite the fact that there were sincere intentions for an agreement – this was especially the case with Mr. Juncker – there was also insistence on the condition that the agreement be approved by the IMF, something that was quite unlikely since the Fund had stopped disbursements for a year. Since the summer of 2014, the IMF has not disbursed funds for the Greek program, because it knows that there is no prospect of the stability and sustainability of the debt.

The stubborn persistence that the IMF be part of the decision, especially since it is obvious to almost everyone that it will not make further disbursements, was a condition that limited, and indeed suffocated, any chance of an honest compromise. I trust that you are all aware that we exhausted the limits on all of our concessions in order to reach an agreement. Perhaps some people perceived this as a sign of weakness or as an opportunity to shrink our political credibility. As an opportunity to seek revenge and punish a different voice within Europe, to make an example of us to other countries so that they would not resist: to create a fait accompli, that there is no breathing room, that there isn’t the slightest expectation or hope for change in Europe and in the Eurozone where hardline conservatives dominate.

You may even remember that even at the last moment – the last moment! – in an effort to reach an agreement, we submitted equivalent measures to the exceedingly high demands of our creditors – exceedingly high demands compared to our assessment concerning the existing fiscal gap for 2015 and 2016 – with the difference being that we chose to allocate the burdens based on criteria of social justice to those who can shoulder them, and not to those who have been shouldering them for the last five years and cannot take it anymore.

Due mainly to the IMF’s insistence, we were asked to remove or mitigate our proposals on the taxation of wealth. We were asked to eliminate the imposition of a special supplementary contribution on business profits over 500,000 euros, and to increase the rate of taxation of corporate bodies by 3%. We were also asked to restore the employers’ contributions to their previous level of 2.9%, which was in place eighteen months ago.

The IMF’s concern is that “non-recessionary” measures be put in place. This is all the more ironic considering that the IMF officially admitted just a few years ago, that they had made a mistake on the multipliers of the recession, a mistake that has condemned our economy to recession for five years now—all in the name of non-recessionary measures. If we ask the wealthiest to shoulder the burden, the IMF believes we will have recessionary measures. However, if we burden pensions and wages, however, we won’t have recessionary measures; if we increase VAT, we won’t have recessionary measures. So, to indulge this obsession of theirs, the IMF asked us to once again have the pensioners shoulder the burden, and that we should decrease pensions–even the allowance for the lowest pensions. Furthermore, they made it clear that they were not interested in additional revenue resulting from controlling illegal wealth, and that they would not include this in their macroeconomic scenarios.

They also asked us to voluntarily opt out of the EU acquis of collective bargaining, which is enshrined in Article 28 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, and to keep the minimum wage in the private sector at the current, near-poverty levels. They asked us to legislate collective redundancies and employer lock out, conditions that the Troika itself had agreed to exclude from pension reform in 2013.

And while we had agreed to start reforming the pension system in October, the IMF demanded that the reduction in the main and supplementary pensions take place earlier, in order to predetermine the content of the reform. The IMF also demanded a dramatic increase of VAT on tourism, i.e. hotels and catering, from 6.5% to 23%. The IMF’s insistence raises a number of legitimate questions: Whose agenda are they serving? What special interests are they representing? Whose interests are served by condemning the most powerful, competitive advantage of our country internationally—tourism—to sudden death? This is akin to issuing a travel guideline advising tourists to not come to our country.

Furthermore, the IMF did not provide anything more concrete on the issue of the debt, aside from the usual vague promises made to previous governments, that the debt would be dealt with at some point. In addition, they provided an extremely tight schedule of financing, whereas according to the decision of February 20th, the completion of the current evaluation on June 30th automatically results in the disbursement of the last outstanding installment of 7.2 billion euro. By extending the current agreement until December 2015, four monthly evaluations were added.

In short, the IMF told us that they would dispense liquidity drop by drop and under tight supervision, while at the same time they would retain the right to unilaterally decide in October whether or not to disburse the instalments of 3.5 billion euro that have been due since 2014. In other words, they were not asking us to agree. They were asking us to hand over our political dignity. They were asking us to once again attack employees and pensioners. They were asking us to sign another Memorandum with harsh terms that would lead to further recession, and the slow death of the Greek economy.

We did not accept. We refused. This was not a matter of compromise. We refused to hand over our country so that it could serve as a new economic colony to foreign interests, and our economy to a new recessionary blackout.

Ladies and gentlemen Members of Parliament,

Now is not the time for petty arguments between the parties, although I understand that perhaps our stance has surprised you. You were certain that we would surrender. Despite the obvious contradiction, you’ve been saying that we’ll lead the country to destruction if we don’t sign an agreement, but if we do sign, then we’ll be condemning the country to another memorandum. You’ve stated this repeatedly. You were certain that we would cave. There may even be a little envy deep inside some of you because we did what you didn’t dare to do–even though you might have wanted to: to resist!

But now is not the time to fight. We must create conditions of accord, for the widest social and political consensus to defend Democracy and the right of a people to be rid of austerity after five consecutive years. The entire political leadership of the country must, above all, protect the right of our people to be the masters of their decisions and to determine the course of the country. The day following the democratic choice, and a proud ‘No’ to subjugation and to indignity, our country will have a much stronger negotiating position, and it will be the moment of truth for the creditors. They will finally understand that Greece is not going to surrender, that Greece is not a game that is over.

Our intention for a truly honest compromise and for a truly sustainable agreement will permanently remain on the table, but there needs to be sincere desire to negotiate in good faith, not just to engage in blackmail. The wider the social and political consensus of our people who will express their opinion sovereignly as required by the rules of democracy and the stronger the will of our people is, the stronger the country’s position will be in international affairs. Only then will it be possible to achieve an agreement that allows for strong growth, the restoration of social justice and cohesion, and country’s productive reconstruction.

I want to make it absolutely clear that our decision that the Greek people express their will sovereignly is in no way a decision to break with Europe. It is a decision to put an end to extortion and coercion, practices that have become all too common in Europe. It is a decision to return to Europe’s founding values, of respect for the European acquis, a decision to return to the Europe of principles and democracy. And it’s a decision of dignity against practices of raw economic blackmail.

I hear a lot of people saying, both in this room and among hardliners in Berlin, that Europe represents the harsh memoranda, that Europe is equivalent to the constant subjugation to austerity, austerity without a future. Should we accept this? Shouldn’t this be disputed? We have an enormous responsibility both to our people and to all the citizens of Europe who saw the political change in Greece with great hope, hope for the necessary change and transformation of Europe.

If we do not challenge this doctrine now, then we are putting an end to hope. We are putting an end to hope for the necessary transformation of Europe. The peoples’ vision comes to an end, as well as our vision for a Europe of solidarity and social cohesion. We would have to accept, to admit that we have, and will have, a Europe of punishment, a Europe of blackmail, a Europe of ultimatums that its people will not love, but will remain by compulsion and not by choice.

Ladies and gentlemen Members of Parliament,

I am confident that the Greek people will rise to the historical occasion and will reject the ultimatum. In past instances, when an ultimatum was presented to the Greek people, they responded accordingly. It will send a message of democracy and dignity throughout Europe. Because a ‘No’ is at the same time a big “yes”; a big ‘yes’ to the Greek Government’s decision to reject an offensive ultimatum.

It offends not only the Greek people, but also the democratic tradition of Europe, the principles and values ​​of the Enlightenment and of the French Revolution. It offends the post-war democratic tradition, whereby the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats – not the Left, as it wasn’t in power – cooperated to help build the European welfare state, which until yesterday, this European welfare state was a global standard and a feature of Europe’s political diversity. It is these principles and values that ​​we are defending: democracy, equality, solidarity, mutual respect, human dignity and social rights.

We are defending – and will continue to do so at any cost – the right of every European citizen to choose their governments, to make crucial strategic choices concerning their future, to choose their governments regardless of whether they are liked by the bureaucratic elites that unfortunately rule Europe today and have led it to these impasses. For this reason, I ask of the Parliament now to approve yesterday’s Cabinet decision to hold a referendum on Sunday, July 5th, while assuring the Greek people once again that this government will not betray their expectations, it will not kill their hope.

And I am confident that everyone, both inside and outside the country, will respect the democratic right of a people to assume responsibility and decide for themselves on the critical issue before them. I say this, because I have the feeling that many would like to do everything in their power to prevent this option. Some have characterized this inherently democratic process as “coup”. The choice to uphold democracy…a coup! Some have even called for the President of the Republic himself to violate the Constitution and the Parliament’s regulations. Those of you who are appealing to the President of the Republic, what exactly are you requesting? A request that is also a dangerous civic choice? Are you asking that the President of the Republic violate the Constitution and the Parliament’s regulations?

In these critical times we all need to assume our responsibilities. And when the responsibilities are heavy, strong shoulders are required to bear them. Courage is required. Bravery is required. Virtue is required. Patriotism is required. And I assure you that the current President of the Republic has all of the above.

Irrespective of everyone’s political beliefs, all of us will be called upon to fight the battle for democracy, dignity and hope. We pledge that from Monday 6th July, with the strength of the popular verdict, we will continue our efforts.

And of course – perhaps I do not need to repeat this – all of us remain absolutely committed to democracy. The results of the democratic choice of our people will be respected, whatever their choice may be. But I want to make this clear: Any attempt for this referendum to be converted from a referendum to reject the new Memorandum to a referendum on the country’s currency serves to undermine the democratic process itself, and reveals the hidden and underlying aspirations of the Memorandum supporters.

This is exactly what the most extreme and conservative memorandum forces want—those who are mainly outside the country, as well as those who blindly repeat their views here. I want to reiterate that it is neither the intention nor the decision of the government or of the Greek people to equate the memorandum with our country’s membership in the European Union.

Greece is neither a visitor nor a guest in the European project. We are equals among equals. No one has the right, not even institutionally according to the European Treaties that we all signed, to show us the to the door to exit from our common home. We do not intend to concede this right to anyone for any reason whatsoever.

Ladies and gentlemen Members of Parliament,

The political change and the popular mandate of January 25th actually provided Europe with an opportunity to change course. Let’s not give up on this. It provided the Troika with an opportunity to transform, to become institutions that will respect the democratic acquis. They did not embrace this. They chose to remain the Troika, which kills democracy in Europe.

The crucial choice of the Greek people today concerns the future of Europe, as well as the future of Greece. I am certain that the Greek people will not be distracted by threats, blackmail, scaremongering, and provocations, and that next Sunday, they will choose bravely, with courage and virtue–exactly how they define the conditions of their freedom. They will seize this moment in history and will send a strong message across Europe, a strong message of dignity worldwide.

In these hours, Europe is looking to Greece. It is awaiting the “No” vote that upholds the dignity of the Greek people, and we have a strong responsibility to not disappoint these hopes.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to say that the Parliament today must support sovereign choice regarding a democratic process. For every citizen of this country, this is a choice to move forward. We have no right to go backwards. We have no right to disappoint the hopes and expectations of the Greek people that our country not be condemned to being a debt colony for decades to come.

We do not have the right, with our choice and our signature, to put an end to democracy in this region, where democracy has been alive for 2,500 years. We do not have the right to afford the opportunity to technocratic institutions, to organizations with no accountability and that have not been elected by European citizens, to prohibit a sovereign people from having the sovereign right to determine the affairs of its territory and future.

The choice lies with all of us, and it is mainly a choice of hope, dignity and democracy. We owe it to our children, we owe it to the future generations, we owe to the struggles and sacrifices of the Greek people so that this country can be sovereign, its people free, so that it can be a country with democracy, popular sovereignty and pride.

We are accountable to those proud struggles, to history, to the future, to the future of our people who deserve to live with a prospect, with hope.

Be well.