Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ speech to the European Parliament

July 8, 2015 | categories : Prime Minister, Speeches

Thank you very much Mr. President.

Honorable Members of Parliament, it is an honor for me to speak in this veritable temple of European democracy. Thank you very much for the invitation. I am honored to address the elected representatives of the peoples of Europe, at a critical time both for my country–for Greece–and for the Eurozone and the European Union as a whole, as well.

I find myself among you, just a few days following the strong verdict of the Greek people, following our decision to allow them to express their will, to directly decide, to adopt a stance and to actively take part in the negotiation regarding their future. Only a few days after their strong verdict instructing us to strengthen our efforts to achieve a socially just and financially sustainable solution to the Greek problem–without the mistakes of the past that condemned the Greek economy, and without the perpetual and hopeless austerity that has trapped the economy into a recessionary vicious cycle, and society in a long-lasting and deep depression. The Greek people made a brave choice, under unprecedented pressures, with the banks being closed, with the majority of the media attempting to terrorize people that a NO vote would lead to a rupture with Europe.

It is my pleasure to be in this temple of democracy, because I believe that we are here to first listen to arguments and then judge those arguments. “Smite me, but first listen to me”.

The brave choice of the Greek people does not stand for a break with Europe, but for a return to the founding principles of European integration, the principles of Democracy, solidarity, mutual respect and equality.

It is a clear message that Europe–our common European project–the European Union, will either be democratic or will face enormous difficulties surviving, given the difficult conditions we’re experiencing.

The negotiation between the Greek government and its partners, which will be completed shortly, seeks to reaffirm Europe’s respect for common operational rules, as well as absolute respect for the democratic choice of our people.

My government and I, personally, came to power about five months ago. But the rescue programs have been in place for about five years. I take full responsibility for what has occurred during these five months. But we should all acknowledge that the primary responsibility for the difficulties that the Greek economy is experiencing today, for the difficulties that Europe is experiencing today, is not the result of choices made in the last five months, but in the five years of implementing programs that did not end the crisis. I want to assure you that, regardless of one’s opinion whether the reform efforts were right or wrong, the fact remains that Greece, and the Greek people, made an unprecedented effort to adjust over the last five years. Extremely difficult, and tough. This effort has exhausted the stamina of the Greek people.

Of course such efforts didn’t only take place in Greece. They took place elsewhere, as well – and I fully respect the effort of other nations and governments that had to cope with, and decide on difficult measures – in the many European countries where austerity programs were implemented. However, nowhere else were these programs so difficult and long-lasting as in Greece. It would not be an exaggeration to say that my country has been transformed into an experimental austerity laboratory for the last five years. But we must all admit that the experiment did not succeed.

In the past five years, unemployment skyrocketed, poverty skyrocketed, social marginalization grew tremendously, as did the public debt, which prior to the launch of the programs was 120% of GDP, and is currently 180% of GDP. Today, the majority of Greek people, regardless of our evaluations–this is reality and we must accept it–feel that they have no choice but to fight to escape from this hopeless course. And it is this desire, expressed in the most direct and democratic way that we, as the government, are called upon to help bring about.

We seek an agreement with our partners. An agreement, however, that will lead to a definitive end to the crisis. Which will give hope, that at the end of the tunnel, there is light. An agreement which will provide for reliable and necessary reforms–no one is opposed to this–but that will shift the burden to those who really have the ability to shoulder it – and who, during the last five years, were protected by the previous governments and did not shoulder the burden – that was placed entirely on the shoulders of the workers, the pensioners, those who can no longer bear it. And, of course, with redistributive policies that will benefit the low and middle classes so that balanced and sustainable growth can be achieved.

The proposal that we are submitting to our partners includes:

– credible reforms, based on, as I said earlier, the fair distribution of the burdens, and with the least possible recessionary effect.

– a request for adequate coverage of the country’s medium-term financing needs, with a strong and front-loaded growth program; if we do not focus on a growth agenda, then we will never see an end to the crisis. Our first objective must be to combat unemployment and encourage entrepreneurship,

-and of course, the request for an immediate commitment to begin a sincere dialogue, a meaningful discussion to address the problem of the public debt’s sustainability.

There can be no taboo issues between us. We need to face reality and look for solutions to this reality, regardless of how difficult these solutions may be.

Our proposal was submitted to the Eurogroup, for review during the Summit yesterday. Today, we are sending a request to the European Support Mechanism. We have committed, in the next couple of days, to provide all of the specifics regarding our proposal, and I hope that we will succeed to meet the requirements of this critical situation in the coming days, both for the sake of Greece, as well as for the sake of the Eurozone. I would say, principally, not only for the financial sake, but also for the geopolitical sake of Europe.

I want to be very clear on this point: the Greek government’s proposals to finance its obligations and restructure its debt are not intended to further burden the European taxpayer. The money given to Greece—let’s be honest–never actually reached the Greek people. It was money given to save the Greek and European banks–but it never went to the Greek people.

Furthermore, since August 2014, Greece has not received any disbursement installments in accordance with the rescue plan in place through the end of June, installments that amount to 7.2 billion euros. They have not been granted since August 2014, and I’d like to point out that our government was not in power from August 2014 through January 2015. The installments were not disbursed because the program was not being implemented. The program was not being implemented during that time (i.e., Aug. ’14-Jan. ’15)–not because of ideological matters—as is the case today, but exactly because the program then, like now, was missing social consensus. In our view, it is not enough for a program to be correct, it is also important for it to be possible to be implemented, that social consensus exists in order for it to be implemented.

Honorable Members of Parliament, at the same time that Greece was negotiating and claiming 7.2 billion euro in disbursements, Greece had to repay–to the same institutions that we were petitioning for the disbursements–installments worth 17.5 billion euros. The money was paid from the meager finances of the Greek people.

Honorable Members of Parliament, despite what I’ve mentioned, I am not one of those politicians who claim that “evil foreigners” are responsible for my country’s woes. Greece is on the verge of bankruptcy because the previous Greek governments created a clientelistic state for many years, they supported corruption, they tolerated or even supported the interdependence between politics and the economic elite, and tax evasion on vast amounts of wealth was left unchecked. According to a study by Credit Suisse, 10% of Greeks possess 56% of the national wealth. And that 10% of Greeks, in the period of austerity and crisis, were left untouched–they haven’t contributed to the burdens as the remaining 90% of Greeks have contributed. The rescue programs and the Memoranda did not even attempt to address these great injustices. Instead, they exacerbated them, unfortunately. None of the supposed reforms of the Memorandum programs, unfortunately, improved the tax collection mechanism that collapsed despite the eagerness of some “enlightened,” as well as justifiably scared, public servants. No supposed reforms addressed the notorious triangle of corruption that was set up in our country many years ago, prior to the crisis, between the political establishment, the oligarchs and the banks. No reforms have improved the operation and efficiency of the State, which has learned to operate to serve special interests rather than the common good. And, unfortunately, proposals to address these problems are now in the spotlight. Our proposals focus on real reforms, which aim at changing Greece. Reforms that the previous governments, the old political guard, as well as those driving the Memoranda plans, did not want to see implemented in Greece. This is the simple truth. Dealing effectively with the oligopolistic structure and the cartel practices in individual markets – including the unregulated and unaccountable television market – strengthening the control mechanisms regarding public revenues and the labor market to combat tax avoidance and evasion, and modernizing the Public Administration constitute our government’s reform priorities. And of course, we expect our partners’ agreement on these priorities.

Today, we come with a strong mandate from the Greek people and with a firm determination to not clash with Europe, but to clash with the vested interests in our country, and with the established rationales and attitudes that plunged Greece into crisis, and are putting a drag on the Eurozone, as well.

Honorable Members of Parliament,

Europe is at a critical crossroads. What we call the Greek crisis is but the general inability of the Eurozone to a find a permanent solution to a self-sustaining debt crisis. In fact, this is a European problem, and not a Greek problem exclusively. And a European problem requires a European solution.

European history is full of conflict, but at the end of day, of compromises, too. But it is also a history of convergence and enlargement. A history of unity, and not of division. That’s why we talk of a united Europe–let’s not allow it to become a divided Europe. We are currently being called upon to reach a viable and honorable compromise in order to avoid a historical break that would overturn the tradition of a united Europe.

I am confident that we all appreciate the gravity of the situation and that we will respond accordingly; we will assume our historic responsibility.

Thank you.