We need a more democratic Europe

Speech at the “Prix de l'Engagement européen” award ceremony by the Paris Bar Association

Mr. President of the Paris Bar Association,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great honor to receive this award from your Association. An Association of unquestionable scientific authority and institutional weight, and great history since 1274 when it was founded.

A pioneer association across Europe in defending human and civil rights.

Today, Mr. President, through me you are rewarding an entire people.
And, in its behalf, I receive this award and I thank you.
Because it belongs to the Greek people.

Α people who in the course of history has written its commitment to Europe with its blood, vigor and disproportionate sacrifices.

Especially during the seven years of the toughest austerity that has occurred in a European country in recent years.

And despite the fact that the Greek people had the opportunity to open Pandora’s box in the Eurozone and in Europe in the summer of 2015. Not once they denied the presence of the country in the heart of Europe.

Even when some extremists in Europe were planning, either by political perversion or by ignorance of risk, the punitive exit of Greece from the Eurozone. And they imposed the continuation of the regime of exception in Greece, regardless of the fact that they knew from the beginning, what Mr. Dijsselbloem admitted just recently.

That, in other words, the successive Austerity Memoranda were designed to rescue European banks – not Europe and the European ideal.

However, despite the unprecedented pressure, we stayed – we did not leave – and we continue to fight.

That is why the European commitment of the Greek people is not a common rhetorical. It is a constant and persistent writing of its history chapters.

And, obviously, I will not stay on what others might have been saying to me in the past, referring to the Athenian Republic of the 5th century BC. That is, I am European because I am a Greek.

Because I m here, with no intention of hiding my political identity, so I will also admit that I am an Europeanist because I am a leftist.

And I am convinced that the struggle to improve the position of the working people will be given and judged in Europe. If it is not achieved here, it will not be achieved anywhere else.

This is also a History lesson.

But it is also the lesson we have learned from the Greek adventure the last seven years.

An adventure that ends in August 2018, as the country is exiting the memorandum and guardianship.

Because Europe, Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, is going through time with contradictions and paradoxes.

Europe of culture and arts, democracy and human rights, and Europe of intolerance, nationalism and the Holocaust.

Europe of Enlightenment, the French Revolution, humanism, and two world wars.

Neo-liberal Europe of technocrats and constraints, but also a democratic Europe of rights and open horizons.

A Europe walking towards its division, but at the same time seeking even greater union.

Inspired by Monnet, Robert Schuman’s declaration on 9th of May 1950.
A declaration which lays the “first, concrete foundations of a European federation that will be essential to maintaining peace.”

These contradictions are product of a different each time European political power.
That is, they change.

And this is the prospect of change that we have to serve.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is not only our understanding  that the recent financial crisis has evolved into a crisis of democracy and a political crisis. It eroded the democratic legitimacy of European unification.

It has expanded inequalities not only between Member States but also between citizens within the Member States.

In the years of the crisis, the European Union has fallen as a community of law and a system of core values. Because the European Union is, among other things, a legal system.
Not only in the sense of a set of rules of law but, above all, in the sense of a set of legal values.

The principle of the rule of law, democratic principles, respect for fundamental rights are a cornerstone of the Union’s structure.

EU Member States, building on these fundamental principles and values, express the will and hope of creating a common legal culture.

And it is precisely these common legal values ​​and principles that allow us to be able to talk about a direction of European unification and procedural rules as well.

Only on the basis of these principles a relationship of mutual trust between Member States can be built up in such a sensitive area.

For example, mutual recognition of judicial decisions is a prerequisite for mutual trust and, to a greater extent, because it concerns fundamental elements of national sovereignty. As the procedure for the enforcement of judgments.

At the same time, the approach of procedural laws is very important for the promotion of the Union’s course.

We cannot talk about a genuine internal market and a real union without common procedural rules that facilitate cross-border trade but also guarantee the equivalent protection of the procedural rights of Union citizens when acting outside the borders of the Member States.

And indeed by achieving a high level of procedural guarantees on the basis of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Ladies and gentlemen,

the crisis has removed Europe from its founding values, has not favored radical initiatives to deepen cooperation. It has ended up moving away, not being a catalyst for approaching the Member States and their peoples.

And the process of European integration is today confronted with the consequences of this crisis. A crisis that has exacerbated the asymmetric integration of the European Union and deepened the North-South breach.

The common currency as a core, but without a single economic and fiscal policy, but without the culmination of a political union.
A Eurozone involving member states with differentiated levels of economic growth, as well as systems for the institutional organization of the socio-economic process.

In addition, the crisis management has magnified the paradox that we are currently confronted with, it has conveyed informally but essentially the decision-making center from supranational, European institutions to intergovernmental.
Behind closed doors of informal organs, who are not accountable to European citizens and kept away from them.
Decisions are now being taken at the European Council and in the institutionally non-existent Eurogroup, which is linked to neo-liberal financial fetishism, with a clear deterioration of the European Commission and the European Parliament.

That is, at a time when European Union was supposed to become more democratic, with the institutional and political lead given by the Treaty of Lisbon to the European institutions, it became more ethnocentric and technocratic.
This, among other things, has as a consequence, a heterogeneous and self-perceived idea that the priority of economic policy in Europe today prevails.

An idea  that focuses on the rapid reduction of budget deficits in the European South but tolerates equally – if not more – aggravating Eurozone, systematic and brutal deficits in the current account balance in the European North and, above all, in Germany.

At the same time, the deterioration of the inherent asymmetries of European integration, which I mentioned earlier, has accelerated socio-economic inequalities both between and within member states.

The current level of economic and social divergence in the Eurozone has no precedent.

It is contrary to the objectives of the European Treaties for balanced economic development, full employment and social progress.

Even when the Eurozone recovers, unemployment remains higher than the pre-crisis level but also unevenly distributed in the North-South dipole.

In the European South it is clearly and steadily higher than average.

At the same time youth unemployment ranges between 30% and 50%.

We are in danger of living with a “lost generation” of young people of high qualification, for which we will be responsible.

This is Europe’s great and pressing problem today and it must be its political priority.

That is why fiscal stabilization is necessary, but it is not an end in itself, nor can it be imposed in the absence of social conditions.

It must be taken into account and combined with the urgent need for a rapid reduction of unemployment and an increase in quality jobs in the direction of full employment.

We need to reduce unemployment in young people and the long-term unemployed as soon as possible.

And that’s why we need investment and growth.

Not in words, but with concrete initiatives to enable this.

There is an even more prominent example that demonstrates the exacerbation of inequalities and divisions caused by the crisis.

Upon entering the crisis, in 2008, Greece and Germany had the same unemployment rate. Specifically: 7.4% in Germany and 7.8% in Greece.

At the exit of the crisis, in 2016, Greece had three times the unemployment rate, while Germany half of what it had before the crisis.

This is the only element sufficient to see who has benefited and who has suffered by the crisis.

But this unprecedented economic and social divergence erodes the legitimate basis of the European Union, which is nothing else than the convergence of living standards and collective prosperity.

And worse still leaves space and ground in the darkness of right-wing populism and intolerance.

As Jacques Delors once warned, “If European policies endanger cohesion and sacrifice social standards, then there is no chance that European citizens will support the European project.”

Ladies and gentlemen,

In the middle of the 19th century, the great French and European writer Victor Hugo, the praiser of Europe of Peoples, Solidarity and Brotherhood, wrote: “What is happening at this time is not the Europe of the peoples. It is the Europe of Kings. ”

If he were alive today, I believe he would have replaced the kings with technocrats and bankers.

Because today’s Europe is their creation, which cannot inspire its citizens.

That is why it must change.

Greece is in a position of responsibility in the great effort to change Europe.

Let’s change it in a direction of democracy, social justice, and progress.

Because only then it will have a future.

Only based on its peoples, millions of Europeans of labour, creation and culture.
Only in this way will it be possible to play the role of the difficult current conditions.

It is, therefore, necessary.

Through our collective thought and will, to make Europe capable of meeting the challenges of the future, emerging economies and the globalized economy.
Design and present to our people an ambitious plan for our common tomorrow, which will lay its foundation in our common values ​​of yesterday and which will respond to today’s needs.

It is necessary.

The transnational European institutions, which presuppose the allocation of sovereignty by member states, must become institutions of supranational democracy, social and parliamentary control.

Let us no longer allow the divestiture of sovereignty by the Member States to become a decline of democracy, both at a national and European level.

But to build the concept of European sovereignty, based on genuinely democratic European institutions, involving our peoples equally in the decision-making process.

It is unnecessary.

The democratic relaunch of Europe should be based on economic and monetary union, the organic unity of which, to a great extent, determines the sustainability of the European project as a whole.

And organic unity cannot exist as long as it is only monetary, but not an economic and a social union as well. That is, as long as it is not transformed into a political union. Organic unity cannot exist as long as the current, unprecedented, economic and social divergence in its interior, which I mentioned above, last.

This means that the Eurozone should quickly be transformed from an institution of enhanced cooperation into an institution of enhanced solidarity.

Because the current structure and functioning of the Eurozone, as a mechanism that widens inequalities and divergences, makes it not only vulnerable but also sensitive to new crises.

That is why we need a more democratic Europe.

That is why the democratization of the Eurozone is necessary.

Its institutional and democratic deepening, with more common policy tools and risk-sharing tools within the Eurozone.

It is also necessary.

To restrain tax competition among our members and close the road to tax havens, which are a legitimate way of violating legitimacy – as sharp as it sounds.

Achieving fiscal convergence but at the same time achieving economic and social convergence.

And the corresponding steps of political deepening of social policy.

Because the absence of credible commitments to social goals is not a mere technocratic distortion. It is a huge political mistake.

It alienates citizens from Europe and its processes.

Especially in those countries that have experienced disproportionately the social cost of the crisis, such as Greece.

That is why I believe that the European Pillar of Social Rights that we decided a few days ago in Göteborg should not stay on paper but joining the Union’s legal framework.

And finally I think it is necessary.

To strengthen the institutional framework of democracy, control and accountability towards European citizens by launching a Eurozone Parliament with decisive and verifiable powers.

Mr. President of the Paris Bar Association,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I hope the ideas you heard about Europe did not change your mind about your choice.
Allow me to believe that these ideas are the strongest and lasting commitment to Europe. Because they concern the people of Europe, democracy and solidarity.
Europe of Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Europe of culture, which is its solid base.

I also hope that I did not take advantage of your courtesy and patience.

I would like to thank you, once again, because by honoring me, you honor the Greek people who deserves it.