Valetta and Athens insist ‘social pillar’ should be part of Europe’s future

Muscat: "“There may be a coalition of the willing that wants to take a step forward, in order to have a real vision for better social conditions and less unemployment." [Foreign and Commonwealth Office Follow/Flickr]

Malta and Greece have pledged to work more closely even in a “coalition of the willing” to seek more social Europe. EURACTIV Greece reports.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat met yesterday (1 March) in Athens with his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras and held discussions ahead of the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaty.

Southern EU countries in push for anti-austerity alliance

The Greek government has invited the leaders of five southern EU countries, including France, Italy and Spain, to Athens in a bid to forge an anti-austerity alliance.

Muscat noted that his country’s EU Presidency has been trying to give both a European and Mediterranean dimension with a special focus on the refugee crisis.

“We are very close to our hearts and I think that what we started a month ago with the summit of the Mediterranean countries has already achieved some positive results,” the Maltese politician said.

He reiterated that the Mediterranean countries’ gatherings was not a “closed club” and expressed his hope that the summit in Rome won’t be just a celebration but a basis which will provide guidance for the future.

Referring to the refugee crisis, he admitted that EU countries had been divided but now “we have entered an important debate concerning the dimensions of this issue”.

Tsipras: Euro-Med summit will unite Europe, not divide it

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.

Against austerity

Tsipras stressed that the Mediterranean countries are at the forefront of the challenges Europe is faced with, such as unemployment and the downgrading of labour social rights.

He warned that EU values are at stake due to the rise of nationalism “which finds a fertile ground in conditions of economic recession and insecurity”.

“The European Union is the democratic and social acquis, without which it cannot exist […] we are trapped in austerity mathematics, indicators and numbers,” the leftist premier stated.

For Tsipras, the rise of Euroscepticism across Europe should be attributed to austerity-driven policies as well as the democratic deficit as “EU citizens do not feel like participating in the political developments”.

He underlined that the Rome anniversary should not be a celebration, but an anniversary, which will focus on the reflection and redefinition of the European project in order to be attractive to citizens.

Greece's lenders shift from austerity to reforms

The Eurogroup took a small step on Monday (20 February) towards the completion of the second review of Greece’s €86 billion rescue programme, placing the emphasis on reforms over austerity to reduce the country’s huge debt pile.

The Greek bailout

The two leaders also talked about developments regarding the Greek bailout negotiations and the much-discussed conclusion of the second review of the financial programme.

Athens News Agency quoted Tsipras as saying that it is definitely possible to complete the evaluation at technical level by the next Eurogroup meeting on 23 March.

Muscat highlighted that the Greek government had achieved significant progress, and admitted many colleagues in Europe share the view that with the current government a “serious effort to make things right is taking place”.

Need for a social pillar

Joseph Muscat also stressed the need for a social pillar as an integral part of the future of the EU. “In Greece, I found someone who fully shares my view.”

The Maltese leader added that there are some member states with different political views and need to be convinced.

“There may be a coalition of the willing that wants to take a step forward, in order to have a real vision for better social conditions and less unemployment,” he said.

Progressives accuse Merkel of pushing a North-South divide

Europe needs a radical change of its austerity-driven policies and not multiple speeds as Germany’s Angela Merkel suggests, high-ranking Social-Democrat, Green and leftist officials told Euractiv.com.