Thank you, Madame President. Let me quickly address some of the points raised by your colleagues. First of all, thank you, Mr. Weber, for making the observation, which I think is fair that Greece is indeed back, because the country today objectively bears no resemblance to the country that we took over when the Greek people placed their confidence in us, in July 2019.
I think the progress that we have made is rather objective in terms of the performance of our economy and in terms of the intensity of the reforms that we have implemented.
I would like to very much take note of what you said regarding the importance of structuring our democratic debate. Be it at the European Parliament or within our national government based on true facts rather than rumors or fake news. It is impossible to have a proper debate if we continue to question the basic facts. And let me take note of a point raised by Mr. Papadimoulis when he falsely claimed that Greece has been the leader in the European Union in terms of Covid death per million people. This is a lie, Mr. Papadimoulis. It’s plain false. And it is unacceptable that you show up in this House and replicate this type of misinformation. So let us at least get our facts straight. When it comes to the issues pertaining to the public debate, I think it is very important to make sure that we can have a public discourse based on facts that are mutually acceptable.
Mr Androulakis, I listened with great attention to your remarks over the Resilience and Recovery Fund. Let me reassure you, as you have already assumed, that our proposals on the Recovery Fund, which have already been approved by the European Commision, have a very intense social dimension.
Let me cite the example of important funds that we direct towards actions, like the training of unemployed people, the support of small and medium-sized enterprises, in order to be able to improve their digital skills or horizontal energy-saving programs, like the “Exoikonomo” theme, of which all Greek households can benefit, but mostly households that are not privileged, as they will be the ones that will have privileged access to this program.
Regarding the issue you raised about the arms embargo regarding Turkey, I will only say this: Of course, each European country is free to act in the field of arms exports as it sees fit, but all European countries should take very seriously into consideration the reality that currently exists in the southeastern Mediterranean.
The truth is that today a country that aspires to become a member of the European Union, namely Turkey, openly challenges the sovereignty of another country that happens to be a member of the European family.
This is something that European countries need to take seriously into consideration in the decisions they make about their options for selling weapons systems to third countries.
Let me switch back to English to respond to some of the points made by Mr. Azmani. I took note, Mr. Azmani, of your observations regarding press freedom in Greece. I can assure you Greece is a country where everyone can write and publish anything about anyone, without any censorship or any control by the government.
Just take a look, and I printed them here, they’re just two indicative front pages from today’s newspapers which accuse me of being a liar, a sycophant. And these are daily front pages from at least four daily newspapers in Greece. And the same media freedom applies to TV, to radio, and of course, the Internet, where everyone is free to write anything about anyone.
And I would urge you to take some of these rankings which are published by non-governmental organizations with a grain of salt. Does one really believe in this House that countries, such as Chad in Africa, have more media freedom than Greece? Because this is exactly what was presented in the rankings which you claim. So when you get advice from your new colleagues, I suggest you dig a little bit deeper in terms of the reality of the Greek public discourse.
We are a very dynamic and vibrant democracy, and I can assure you that freedom of the press is an accepted reality in Greece for many decades now. And frankly, the Commission is going to publish its recommendations regarding Rule of Law. We expect them and we will look very carefully of what the Commission has to say. And at the end of the day, I think we can trust the Commission to properly assess the state of Rule of Law in all European countries.
Mrs. Strik, thank you for your comments, and I think you’ve raised some valid points. First of all, regarding the lack of solidarity offered to Greece, but also to other countries which are on the external borders of the European Union when it comes to the migration issue. I would, however, like to point out that it is the right of every European member state to protect its borders with full respect for fundamental rights. This is exactly what Greece has been doing for the past three years. And we have been successful in protecting our borders and we have been successful in terms of breaking down the smugglers networks that have really exploited the desperation of weak and traumatized people by encouraging them to embark on a very dangerous journey.
And when you speak about “pushbacks”, I would urge you to think more in terms of push forwards rather than push backs. We have a Statement between the European Union and Turkey which requests Turkey to cooperate in terms of managing migration flows across the Aegean. When a sailing boat leaves a Turkish marina with 100 or 200 people on board, I think we need to be naive to believe that this is happening without knowledge of the Turkish authorities.
We know very well that Turkey back in March 2020 weaponized the migration issue and tried to push tens of thousands of desperate people across the Greek border, exactly the same practice that Lukashenko did in Ukraine. There was nothing different. The playbook was already written by Turkey back in March 2020.
So please, when you look at these issues, which are sensitive issues, let us not repeat the Turkish propaganda that they have no role in what is happening and that it is the Greeks who are behaving inhumanely in terms of not protecting fundamental rights. We have an independent anti-corruption agency which is looking at allegations. Some of the allegations, yes, are concerning and they need to be further explored.
Having said that, I would like to point out that the reception facilities -because you made a point to the reception facilities today- bear no comparison to the reception facilities under the previous leftist government. Take a look at the islands now. Go visit Samos or Chios. You will find state-of-the-art reception facilities that were funded by the European Union, which have no comparison to the disgrace of Moria, which was a creation of the previous leftist and very “sensitive” when it comes to human rights issues. This reality no longer exists.
One last point in terms of integration, I think you will find this interesting: Yesterday I welcomed to my office a 19 year old Iranian boy. His name is Kourosh. Kourosh made it to Lesbos in 2019. He entered a Greek school. He learned Greek, he gave his entrance exams to Greek University and he will now be admitted to the best school in Greece when it comes to Electrical Engineering. Having aced his national entrance exams. This is how this government looks at the integration process of people who have reached the European shores and have a right to be integrated into the European society.
Now, when it comes to the points raised by Mr. Beck and Mr. Fragkos, very quickly, Mr. Beck, I assure you that when it comes to purchases of weapon systems, all the important weapon systems that we have purchased over the past three years have been European. And I do believe that we need to purchase more European systems when we have that option. And I believe we need more integration of our defense industry in order to make it more competitive.
And when it comes to the issues raised by Mr. Fragkos, regarding the brain drain, I can assure you that for the first time, many young Greeks who left the country over the past decade in search of a better job are seriously contemplating returning to the country, for two reasons: because for the first time we offer many good paying jobs and because they have an overall confidence that this country is moving in the right direction. We still have a lot of work to do to reverse the brain drain problem, but I think we have made some important first steps.
Finally, when it comes to the points raised by Mr. Papadimoulis who was very eager to defend the previous government, I understand his point, but I think it is improper sometimes, Madame President, to bring issues pertaining to domestic politics to this House.
I would only point out one reality, Mr. Papadimoulis. Seven years ago there was a referendum which was led by your government which pushed Greece to the precipice of us exiting the Eurozone. And it was only because you reversed the decision of the Greek people, you made the famous now «kolotoumba», which is a somersault, a u-turn that you signed a third program and essentially condemned Greece to four unnecessary years of austerity.
This is one of the main reasons why you were voted out of power and why we came into power in order to make sure that we move Greece back to a proper growth track.
Finally, when it comes to issues regarding rule of law, we’ll have an opportunity, Madam Speaker, and I will end here to have a discussion in the Greek parliament tomorrow regarding these issues.
What is a fact today, when it comes to independent justice, is that two of the closest collaborators of Mr. Tsipras, the Minister in charge of anti- corruption, has been sent to the highest Court of the country accused of tampering with justice and intervening in justice. And a second Minister of the Tsipras government has also been sent to the highest Court because he interfered in a public tender regarding broadcasting rights.
So this is a track record of your government. You have two of your ministers who will be held accountable to justice for clear interventions when it comes to rule of law. So let the facts speak rather than use this chamber to promote fake news. Thank you again, madam president, for giving me the opportunity to address the European Parliament.