EXCLUSIVE / The meeting of leaders from Southern European countries taking place in Athens today (9 September) will put Mediterranean issues on the EU agenda, without attempting to create divisions, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told EURACTIV.com in an interview.
Alexis Tsipras responded in writing to questions by EURACTIV’s Sarantis Michalopoulos.
On 9 September, you have invited in Athens the leaders from the Mediterranean countries. What is the purpose of this meeting?
It is now common knowledge that Europe is at a critical crossroads. Economic stagnation, social cohesion problems, the rise of Euroscepticism and isolationism, the strengthening of far-right populist phenomena, are issues that we cannot bypass in a serious debate on the future development of European integration.
In such a debate, Europe’s Mediterranean countries can and must raise their voice. The way to have a bigger say is to seek a common approach and common positions. Having that in mind, we turned to the leaders of France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus and Malta, for a first meeting in Athens. I believe that regardless of the political origin of each of us, there is ground for joint action.
There is a need to give new impetus to growth and productive reconstruction, to address critical problems of social and regional inequalities, promote peace and stability solutions in our region, to have a single, humane and effective management of the refugee crisis. You realize that these are not only problems of the countries that will meet in Athens. These are problems related to Europe as a whole.
Therefore, apart from ways to strengthen our cooperation, we explore the possibility to enrich our common positions on the European agenda. I have every reason to be optimistic that the Euro-Mediterranean meeting in Athens will be productive and will lead to positive results not only for us but for the future of the EU.
A pro-growth agenda is likely to deepen public deficits, which is not authorised under the Stability and Growth Pact and is a political no-go for some EU countries like Germany. What are your arguments to convince them?
It is a huge mistake to see growth as a process that creates deficits. Growth is a tool to make economies move and get Europe out of the crisis and stagnation. But in any case, I want to be clear: we do not seek to cause rifts and conflicts in Europe. Moreover, at least two of the participating countries, France and Italy, are considered to belong to the “hardcore” of Europe, which is very positive for all of us.
This initiative, therefore, does not seek in any way to divide the political construction of Europe. Rather, it seeks to unite and strengthen it. In the Mediterranean countries we realise our common problems, opportunities and prospects, as well as the importance of this for the future of our Union.
For this, our agenda focuses, in a positive way, on growth and social cohesion issues. I believe that there will a positive response across the EU on these topics. I think that our primary objective is more and better Europe, which is currently the major challenge.
Socialist leaders across Europe have backed your government’s efforts to stabilise Greece. Some of them have adopted a more “leftist” rhetoric lately, while others remain close to the center. Do you plan to join the socialist family some day?
Currently, the crucial point for the EU is to have a new vision, with clear political, social and pro-growth dimension.
I think that on this challenge there must be new convergences, which go beyond the limits of the European political families. Therefore, in the recent meeting of socialist heads of states and governments in Paris, where I participated as an observer, I suggested the creation of a forum for dialogue, meaning that the Socialists, the European Left and the Greens can sit on the same table and explore things that unite them.
There was a very positive response to that and this allows us to be optimistic. The crisis in Europe, a crisis at the heart of which was Greece, brought these forces closer. So, we have to continue towards this direction, because unity and understanding are opening new paths.
Do you fear that the developments in Turkey could put into question the EU-Turkey refugee deal? Is Athens ready in the event it collapses?
The agreement between the European Union and Turkey continues to apply and this is very positive because it is the most effective tool we have for the management of the refugee crisis.
However, the balance that has been achieved is extremely sensitive and it will be hypocritical to pretend that we do not see it. Greece, which has been at the centre stage of this crisis as well, is moving in all directions, so that all parties involved continue to consistently implement what has been agreed.
The refugee crisis concerns everyone and we are responsible for its humane and efficient management.
The Greek debt is still a hot potato for many EU leaders. Are you optimistic that after a successful second assessment of the Greek bailout, debt talks will start soon? Do you think this time, EU partners will deliver on their promise?
The Greek debt is not an issue for optimism. It is a clear part of the agreement signed last July between Greece and its European partners. We consistently implement all our commitments, in order to achieve a definitive exit from this crisis. It is, therefore, logical for the other side to implement as well its commitments with respect to an agreement about the viability of the Greek debt.
You recently raised again the issue of the World War II German compensation. Berlin claims that the issue is legally and politically solved. Will you insist?
It is a complicated legal debate, but I can tell you that it’s an issue of national importance for Greece. The question remains open and we approach it in the most prudent and efficient way to reach an ultimate solution.
The rise of extreme-right political powers across Europe is now a fact. But the austerity recipe is still there and two crucial elections in France and Germany are on the way. What will you do to change this trend?
The rise of the extreme-right is a phenomenon that we must interpret and address without neglecting the reality. The reasons of this phenomenon, which endangers the course of the joint European effort, lie in the EU’s weakness to address economic stagnation and social insecurity. At the heart of this discussion, a new growth model must be found, which will have a clear social dimension.
Following Brexit, some countries appear to increasingly organise themselves in geographical groups, like Visegrad, and now the Mediterranean alliance, which is championed by Greece. Is division the new reality for Europe? How can it be mended?
I want to repeat once again that the Euro-Mediterranean meeting, is a move against no one. It is our intention, we will cooperate and coordinate better in order to make the Mediterranean agenda a component part of the European agenda.
And this is clearly a very pro-European movement. It doesn’t aim at a political power redistribution. It aims at a better, more productive, more peaceful and more humane future. And I consider this concerns Europe as a whole.
In Bratislava, most of the talk is expected to focus on security. One idea gaining traction is the creation of a European army. Do you support such a project?
We are aware of the nature of the problem. We must agree on its causes, too. If we want to solve the issue of security, we should give immediate and radical responses to both. Complex problems like this, cannot be addressed with one-dimension solutions. With the same care, we need to see and address the other risks Europe is faced with after Brexit, risks of an economic, political and social nature.