30th Mar 2020

Greece heading for 'very controversial' EU talks

  • The talks were 'open and constructive' said Schulz (r), noting this is code for he and Tsipras being in disagreement (Photo:

Greece is heading for "very controversial" talks with its EU partners, European Parliament president Martin Schulz said following a two-hour meeting on Thursday (29 January) with the newly-elected prime minister Alexis Tsipras.

Schulz, a German Social Democrat, went on to elaborate that he has "rarely" in his time in public office had such a conversation as he had just had with the 40-year old radical left politician.

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He indicated the two had been in disagreement on several points.

"There is a diplomatic phrase: 'The talks were open and constructive'. That is a phrase that is always used in press conferences when there has been a dispute. So that's why I want to say here: Yes, the talks were open and constructive."

But he also said the talks had shown him Tsipras isn't simply going to make a unilateral decision on what to do with Greece's debt pile, that it wants to make suggestions, and then talk "constructively" about them.

"I am pretty sure that the debate will very controversial. That is to be expected and was in our conversation already noticeable", Schulz noted.

Tsipras, for his part, spoke of "winning new trust" between Greece and the EU institutions.

He said his government wanted to break the link between politicians and oligarchs, tackle corruption and tax evasion, and reform the public administration.

"We don't want to bring about new deficits. We are consulting with our partners how we can find a mutually useful solution. These consultations need time. We both want to find the way back to growth, to employment, to social cohesion in Greece."

He spoke of a forward-looking Europe seeking a "better future with more solidarity and trust on both sides".

He added that Europe will get through the crisis and "be stronger than ever before".

The short press conference, with no questions for journalists, marked the first visit by an EU politician to Athens since Greek voters on Sunday voted in Tsipras' Syriza party.

Their decision has ushered in a new political era, with Syriza having campaigned on promises to end austerity and restructure the country's huge debt pile.

Eurozone partners have since then been stunned by the rapidity of the government formation - Tsipras was sworn in less than 24 hours after polls closed - and the fact that Syriza is so far sticking to its campaign promises.

It has halted privatisation deals and promised to press ahead with raising the minimum wage - both moves go explicitly against the reforms international creditors (the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) say must be carried out.

But so far, other eurozone politicians have ruled out debt relief and issued a series of statements calling on Greece to stick to its commitments.

Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem, representing eurozone finance ministers, will meet the newly appointed Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis on Friday.

This is set to be the first test of how the two sides will start to bridge what currently looks like an unbridgeable gap.

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