Madam President, ladies and gentlemen – members of the European Parliament,
Thank you very much for honoring me with an invitation to address the elected representatives of the 27 states of our Union, at a moment that coincides with the end of a difficult chapter for Greece and Europe.
But also with the beginning of our new, joint efforts against the major challenges of the future, which are already knocking on the door of our European family. Now is the time to boldly design the European Union of the next decades.
These days back in 2015, Greece stood at the edge of the precipice, close to exiting the eurozone. Its society was hit by consecutive waves of blind and divisive populism. In fact, on this very day, July 5, 2015, a referendum was held that came close to delivering the final blow.
Only after facing disorderly default the then government backed down. But the price was heavy: closed banks, capital controls and an unnecessary third program that led us to a new cycle of austerity. No European society suffered more than Greece this last decade.
Fortunately for my country, the Greece of 2022 has nothing to do with the Greece of 2015. Seven years later, here I am, in this house, to tell you that those days are definitely gone. For three years now, my country has had a government that leads it towards a new era. A country that will play a leading role in innovation, in tackling unemployment and attracting investments.
In August -one month from now- my country will exit the Enhanced Surveillance mechanism. It stands ready to regain an investment grade within the next year, 2023. And its citizens are more united and optimistic, despite the great adversities we are still facing.
Let me take this opportunity to thank Europe for supporting my country when others were experimenting with its very place in Europe. I thank everyone who contributed so that the cradle of democracy could retain its place as a member of the most democratic family of states.
This concrete solidarity is now reciprocated by Greece, as we put our national progress into the service of pursuing our common European goals.
The gray parenthesis that came before was, indeed, traumatic but at the same time instructive. After all, who would have thought that Greece, which had been among the laggards in terms of growth for almost a decade, would have the 3rd highest growth rate among eurozone countries today?
Who would have believed a few years ago that we would have gotten here by reducing taxes and social security contributions without, at the same time, endangering fiscal stability?
And who would have believed that a public sector that had been a byword for inefficient bureaucracy would become a pioneer in digital governance, much more user-friendly when it comes to serving its citizens.
Greece really has turned a page, ladies and gentlemen, it has changed; and this change was driven by the Greek people, who no longer believe in false slogans but only in the truth of action. Because they see the fruits of the bold moves made by a modern reformist government, a government that also strengthened the quality of our democracy and freed the political system from the stain of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn.
As a Greek I can proudly declare that my country has indeed rebuilt its economy and united its society. At the same time, it has reestablished its place as an equal, active and credible partner within the European family.
Let me remind you that Athens took the lead in the common policy response against COVID, in the vaccination campaign. The European Digital Certificate was a Greek proposal that was later adopted by the European institutions.
We were also one of the first countries to highlight the need to launch a common fund for the recovery of our economies after COVID. And one of the first to draw up a National Plan within the framework of NextGenerationEU.
Apart from that, Greece also became the guardian of Europe when, in 2020, more precisely in March, it saw consecutive intrusion attempts by tens of thousands of illegal migrants from Turkey.
I remember how, in a gesture of concrete solidarity, the then President of the European Parliament, our dear David Sassoli, the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission speedily came to our borders in Evros within 48 hours.
This is an issue that remains dramatically relevant, as indicated by the recent tragic events of Spain; but also an unremitting one, as reflected in the operations of the traffickers that persist both at sea and in land, with unfortunately more and more modern methods.
I can also declare that I am proud to be European. Because over the years, and particularly in the context of the Greek ordeal, this Union and its institutions took action and succeeded in finding new solutions to the new issues we have faced.
The EFSF evolved into the ESM. The European Central Bank opened the door to the purchase of government bonds. The European Semester was established. The Single Supervisory Mechanism and the Resolution Board came into being, as well as the new Directorate-General for Structural Reform Support, which provides constant technical assistance.
In other words, Europe supported Greece, walking alongside it in the path of major changes, on a journey where national challenges are often also European. There can of course be no place for national egos in dealing with these challenges.
On the other hand -let me insist here- there can be no EU solidarity if the beneficiary is not correspondingly reliable.
These, then, are the twin foundations of the new European edifice.
Ladies and gentlemen, Members of Parliament, I began today by talking about the great progress that our country has achieved over the past three years. In 2021 we reported far higher growth than expected, exceeding 8 per cent, the unemployment rate has steadily declined and we have seen a very significant increase in foreign investments.
Public debt fell as a share of GDP. Greece repaid its last outstanding obligations to the IMF two years earlier than planned. And we fixed the banking system, drastically reducing risky loans from Greek banks. All this is evidenced by relevant economic indicators and figures.
Taking however into account that I am addressing elected politicians, allow me to point out two elements that constitute an “intangible” public capital that was accrued over the course of this journey: first, the conditions under which the Greek state operated and second the radical social changes that were promoted at the same time, so that social progress could go hand-in-hand with economic progress and progress for the country overall.
As regards the context in which my government had to act, an overview of past events will suffice: a hybrid attack using migrants, followed by threats by Turkey in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean that peaked in the summer of 2020; natural disasters, destructive fires as a result of the climate crisis, followed by pandemic.
On all these fronts, we tried to turn crises into opportunities. With the help of Europe, we have better organized the watch over our eastern borders.
We signed agreements for the delimitation of our maritime zones with Italy and Egypt and partnerships with Israel, formed strategic relations with the Arab world, while our defense is strengthened by the strong mutual assistance agreement with France and our defense cooperation with the US.
Arguably the best example of how we turned a challenge into an opportunity is, in my opinion, our management of the pandemic. Not only because it led to the doubling of our ICU capacity, the provision of new equipment to our hospitals and the hiring of thousands of health workers. But also, because it led to the establishment of a new National Health System.
Greece is instituting the provision of health services by a “Personal doctor”, which will be available to everyone, while the reorganization of all our primary and secondary care structures has already started in my country. This highlights the second element that I mentioned, namely the social orientation of our actions, despite the unfavorable conditions prevailing both globally and at the national level.
It isn’t common for a country that is coming out of a painful, traumatic ten-year economic adventure to face a series of challenges and at the same time not to lose sight of its goal, the well-being of its society.
During the pandemic we allocated tens of billions of euros to support businesses and workers. We implemented successive rounds of tax relief and reduced social security contributions, which freed up investment and boosted disposable incomes. Above all, we enacted significant changes in labor policies. A policy that is summarized in six words: less taxes, more jobs, better life.
This year the minimum wage increases have cumulatively added an extra wage on an annual basis. We established the Digital Work Card as a shield to protect workers against any malpractice on the part of the employer, while employees can now transparently craft their work schedule and their leave.
Workplace conditions now conform to European standards. There is no kind of discrimination and working parents enjoy special benefis.
Obviously we cannot be satisfied with the progress we have achieved, considering the needs. But it serves as a measure of our effort. Even more so when the whole spectrum of government policies contributes to securing many well-paying jobs, from facilitating investment to the full revamp of the education and training system, part of an outlook that wants -let me say this again- social progress to go hand in hand with the economic progress.
Dear MEPs, I started my speech saying that nothing is the same in Europe and Greece following the second decade of the 21st century. Nor is there anything reminiscent of the 20th century, as unprecedented changes are occurring all over the planet, triggered by the unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine.
War has returned to our continent. The turmoil in energy markets and price increases are besieging all European societies; Many countries again face the nightmarish prospect of food shortages.
All these shape a landscape where the only constant is instability. They also raise, however, an identity question for every organization, every country: which of the shifting plates of interests will they side with?
Keeping so-called “equal distances” leads nowhere but to the chaotic gap created between them. While the role of the “sly neutral” party has been condemned, as you know, many times in the course of history.
Europe, the European Parliament and Greece have answered this question from the first moment. We stand on the side of peace and International Law. This is why we stand against the intruder who violated legality and the existing frontiers.
We stand with democracy and the Western civilization. This is why we reject authoritarian neo-despotism. And, finally, we stand on the side of justice. That is why we do not equate aggressors with victims. We always support those who defend themselves. Because the battle for Ukraine is not just another incident; rather, it is an inflection point for Europe. Its significance only becomes visible if every state looks at it from its own national perspective.
In other words, in Ukraine we must prevent any kind of fait accompli that wannabe troublemakers might seek to replicate in the future.
And this is particularly important for two members of the Union: Greece and Cyprus. I am referring of course to Turkey’s unremitting, aggressive behavior, even as it seeks to move closer to Europe. It already faces the clear decisions of the European Council.
Reality and international law provide the answers to Turkey’s baseless claims; against Turkey’s provocative behavior put forth our preparedness.
As we face the great challenge of the war in Ukraine one thing is certain in the eastern Mediterranean: we do not need new revisionism and the revival of imperial phantasies.
It is also certain that Greece will not tolerate any challenges to its sovereignty and territorial integrity. And I am sure that in this constant struggle all of you will stand by our side.
So, my position has long been clear: we keep our doors closed to threats and our windows open to peaceful engagement. Differences between states are resolved in accordance with international law, not through bullying.
The current confluence of events, however, does not only have geopolitical consequences, but also economic and social ones. The international turmoil in energy has brought about price hikes across all products, which in turn reasonably, expectedly cause popular discontent in all our societies.
A “combustible mix” is thus created for populism to flare up again, preaching simplistic solutions to complex problems. And, as you know, there are no magic solutions for this.
Therefore, Europe is called upon today to overcome multiple challenges. To draw up a common policy that ends its dependence on Russian energy sources, promoting the green transition more speedily; but, at the same time, to manage the explosive increases in energy prices.
Europe must build its strategic autonomy faster, as a strong pole on the world chessboard. And certainly it must deepen democracy in the way it functions and within member states, because inequalities and a sense of distance from our citizens unfortunately remain.
Demagoguery invests in slogans of eloquent deception that have no cost. Our duty therefore is to address Europeans plainly, without embellishments, pitting what is necessary against the extreme. And deploying persuasion in the battle against fake news.
This is the way to show that national governments, European institutions are not some cold and impersonal bureaucracy but are part of a coherent system that ultimately has something to do with every European citizen.
Greece wants to be actively engaged in all these challenges. We were one of the first countries to propose a European energy plan.
At the national level, as Madam President said, we are a solid entrypoint for liquefied natural gas, which covers not only Greece’s needs, but also the needs of the Balkans and, in the future, the needs of Eastern Europe.
We are promoting our electrical interconnection with Cyprus and Egypt, as well as Israel, so that our entire continent can soon be supplied with clean and cheap solar power generated in Africa and the Middle East.
When it comes to Europe’s strategic autonomy, Athens is once again taking the lead by serving as a bridge to the Western Balkans; but also by having integrated its defense doctrine with our collective security in NATO’s southeastern flank.
This also concerns immigration and traffickers. In the last few months alone we rescued 6,000 shipwrecked people in the Aegean, all of them coming from Turkey. So, there is ongoing pressure, and new plans are required to deal with it.
Lastly, on democracy, you can picture Greece’s course through certain specific events. We acquired a new Constitution with a huge majority; we elected a woman to the highest state office, the Presidency of the Republic, for the first time.
Our parliament is functioning smoothly, having voted 331 bills into law over the past three years, including one that grants the right to vote to Greeks living outside of Greece, so that they are able to vote from their permanent place of residence. And, of course, we instituted regulations safeguarding rights that have no precedent in the Greek legal order.
Ladies and Gentlemen, MEPs, I am not only interested, however, in what has happened or is currently happening across the continent and in my country. Above all I am interested in what must happen for the Europe of our future; one that must spread in terms of size, but also deepen in terms of cooperation.
A Europe that must acquire its own defense and energy policy, taking the lead -as we have done so far- in the green transition. And, of course, a Europe of culture that continues to inspire the entire world.
I must say that despite the difficult circumstances we are faced with today, I am optimistic. A united Europe responded more effectively than anyone else to the onslaught of COVID. Very big countries with strong economies, like China, have yet to tame it.
The decision to jointly procure vaccines was a major breakthrough for Europe, as was the big step to create NextGenerationEU, to borrow at a supranational level and to channel resources through subsidies and loans to all European countries, in order to support our economies, to be able to overcome the great coronavirus crisis. All this seemed unlikely to happen three years ago.
Europe is a rising power when it comes to technology, it is a world power in renewable energy, we have a specific plan for climate change -madam President, I know how interesting and how difficult the debate that you will have tomorrow on taxonomy is- while, despite the difficulties, the aura of democracy always is always there in our countries.
We have the tradition, the will and the culture of our peoples, these are “supplies” that we draw upon in order to push forward. That’s far from insignificant if you consider that major liberal powers, like the United States, are divided today on abortion, an issue that was resolved in Europe decades ago.
Our progress, therefore, is in our hands. The 750 billion euros -the new Fund that we created- are destined to stay true to the name and purpose of the RRF: to finance the recovery and resilience of our states.
Our experiences and the insight we have gained from the four great challenges we have lived through in recent years, the sovereign debt crisis, the refugee crisis, the pandemic and now the energy crisis, must serve as our guide.
What have we learned? First, that in an interconnected world no state can handle crises of this magnitude alone, no matter how big the state is.
And second, as I have told you, whenever Europe moved quickly, with common mechanisms and decisions, it proved resilient. These are the two lessons we are called to harness today in the face of the great turmoil in energy markets, because the separate policies of each country undermine European strategy and competitiveness.
Therefore, a united Europe also means a united Europe when it comes to energy. We must have the courage to intervene in markets when they have, essentially, ceased to function.
We need to break this link between gas prices and electricity prices. It is something that I have asked repeatedly at the European Council and I am happy to see that there is now some movement on the part of the Commission, to look at the way in which electricity is priced on our continent.
I say this as a liberal politician who has the ability to face the future head-on and publicly ask for a European intervention when markets no longer work to the benefit of the citizens.
The green zero-emission economy will come. The question is how will we get there and how, in the interim, will we implement the rapid green transition without seeing the collapse of household and corporate budgets at the same time. This is the big challenge that we will have to manage in the coming months, certainly in view of the difficult winter ahead.
We know we need to accelerate the penetration of renewables, no one disputes that. My country will add nearly 2,000 megawatts of new solar and wind generation capacity this year alone.
We know we need more interconnections, so that no Union member-state remains an “island”, cut off from Europe’s energy networks.
These are the great challenges we will be called upon to face. And this is a unique agenda for the resilience and development of the entire European family.
For me -and I will finish with this thought so that I can also answer your questions- six are the big challenges that we will need to deal with in the coming years: a European Defense and common Security policy, taking into account the challenges of migration; the banking union and deposit protection; an effective European energy plan; a permanently coordinated action based on the RRF; the deepening of democracy, tackling demagoguery and countering the pest of fake news; but also the enlargement of the European Union into the Western Balkans, which we must not forget here, in this chamber. It is an enlargement that Greece, as a Balkan country, actively supports.
We want Europe in the Balkans and the Balkans in Europe.
We all know, ladies and gentlemen, MEPs, that these battles will be unceasing. After all, we were warned about this five years ago by the historian Ian Kershaw, who wrote in his book “Roller-Coaster: Europe, 1950-2017”, that: “Europe fought for freedom and won it, along with prosperity that is the envy of almost the whole world. Its search for unity and a clear sense of identity continues. But its only certainty is uncertainty. Insecurity will remain a hallmark of modern life”.
It is with these words that I would like to finish my speech, adding that we have a duty: to protect the freedoms and the prosperity that we have won, that the previous generations won on our behalf, but also to conquer the European identity.
Our first task, however, is to make stability a certainty, because in today’s conditions strong states are stable states, and in a changing world a strong European Union is a stable and self-reliant Union that will unite its people and have a leading role in the international stage.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address the European Parliament today.