19th Jun 2019

MEPs berate Greek PM in lively debate

  • Greek PM Alexis Tsipras debated his country's economic woes with MEPs (Photo: European Parliament)

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras on Wednesday took a verbal beating from the main political groups in the European Parliament for turning up both at a euro summit the previous evening and then in plenary with no concrete proposals on where to go next with his debt-ridden country.

The left-wing PM, now in his sixth month of office, stepped into a packed Strasbourg plenary - amid both applause and boos – as MEPs waited to hear an update on what has turned out to be the EU’s biggest crisis since it was founded.

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But Tsipras’ 15 minute speech, where he described Greece as an “austerity laboratory”, was met with sharp criticism from the centre-right and finger-wagging from the liberals, the centre-left, and Green group leaders.

Tsipras told the assembly that five-and-half years of imposed austerity had resulted in a GDP-to-debt ratio of around 180 percent and a wrecked economy.

“It is a major injustice, bailout programmes have not made things better, they have made things worse,” he said.

Buoyed by a popular vote in Greece on Sunday, Tsipras said the solution to the country’s financial woes require “credible reforms.”

He said the Greek people had spoken and given him a mandate to find a “socially just and economic sustainable solution.”

He then blamed previous governments and austerity programmes for devastating the country and strengthening the vested interests of the political establishment, oligarchs, and banks.

Tsipras spoke after Greece was Tuesday given an end-of-the week ultimatum to propose new reforms to avoid a eurozone exit.

European President Donald Tusk warned a solution would have to be found or “we will wake up in four days with a different Europe”.

European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said it had been a mistake to leave the negotiation table.

“We must go back to the negotiating table, that is where we belong,” said Juncker.

Tsipras' speech was short on specifics, irking MEPs who had expected more details.

German Green MEP Rebecca Harms said the PM should have outlined plans on weeding out corruption, cronyism, and policies on fair tax and pension systems.

“I thought that Tsipras would come along here and say this is how I’m going to go about it with my people. We want to have your views on a fair tax system, I thought you were going to present your views on a fair pension system,” she said.

She told him not to look for answers in Russia.

“Democracy and (Russian President) Putin, I’m sorry, do not much add up. I wish you success and I wish success for Europe as well,” she said.

German EPP leader Manfred Weber gave one of the angriest speeches.

“Look around this chamber, from the far left to the far right, you have a lot of applause. Mr Tsipras, the extremists of Europe are applauding you.”

He said Tsipras was destroying confidence in Europe by not presenting a reform programme.

“Up until now there are no specific proposals from Greece,” he said.

Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt, for his part, accused Tsipras of engaging in the same kind of clientelism that has plagued the country for decades.

“A few weeks ago, thirteen directors in the ministry of education had to be nominated and by accident, twelve were from the Syrizia party,” he said.

Verhofstadt said Tsipras has to stop talking about reforms and start proposing plans and roadmaps with deadlines.

“I am angry because we are in fact sleep walking towards a Grexit,” he added.

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