Pittella: Hawks are condemning Greece to death

Gianni Pittella [European Parliament]

The IMF and German hawks want the patient dead. And they still want a Grexit. But the Socialists say “Non passeranno” [they will not pass], Gianni Pittella, leader of the Socialist and Democrats group in the European Parliament, told euractiv.com in an exclusive interview.

Gianni Pittella is a doctor of medicine by profession. He started his career in politics as a Socialist youth leader and held different positions in local government bodies in his native Italy. He has been a member of the European Parliament since 1999.

Pittella spoke to EURACTIV’s Senior Editor, Georgi Gotev.

The situation with Greece is getting dramatic. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has asked for an extraordinary EU summit. There seem to be big questions around the role of the IMF, and the games it has been playing, including ideological attacks against the Syriza government. What is your analysis?

This is a sequel of a movie we watched one year ago, with the same actors. On the one side, the IMF, on the other, the German hawks Schäuble-style, who try to use inappropriate weapons to destroy a democratically elected government and a nation that is making big efforts, both in the economic and financial areas, and in tackling the refugee crisis.

I notice a rapprochement between the centre-left and Syriza. I also notice that in the European Council, when you count the heads of state and government by political affiliation, the biggest force is the centre-left. What is your political family going to do to help Greece?

Tsipras represents a progressive force. Even if he was of another political colour, I would still oppose the infamous push by the IMF and of some conservative protagonists to request preventive austerity measures from Greece. It’s like they are saying, “We don’t trust you Greeks, and therefore you will need to reach targets in a preventive way.” This is like condemning a country to death. This is not preventive austerity, this is the death of a country. Whoever the Greek prime minister, I would stand by him.

Regarding the relationship between the Socialist family and Tsipras, there is a dialogue, but we are a force different from his. Frankly, I don’t know where this dialogue will lead us, as there is no request on the part of Tsipras to accede to the Party of European Socialists. There have been meetings, and this is normal between protagonists of the left, who have different accentuation.

Answering your question about the new balances in the European Council, I see them as very positive. We, from the Socialist family, together with Tsipras, agreed to meet in Rome, between May and June, to prepare our proposals for the relaunch of the economy, for the relaunch of economic growth and the relaunch of social justice. And we will fight the battle both in the Council and in the European Parliament.

Is Grexit used as a part of the weaponry to put pressure on Greece? Some leaks suggested so.

It is wrong, it is unjust, it is iniquitous to dangle the Grexit card. Greece is making extraordinary efforts to keep up with its commitments with the EU. They ask of Greece additional measures, which are tantamount to major sacrifices for the citizens, for their social situation, forgetting that this country has been for years constrained to tears of blood. (Yet) they ask more austerity from a patient who is so weakened. They want the patient dead. They want Grexit, because they did not succeed last year, but we say “Non passerano” [they will not pass]. Non passerano!

Even US President Obama apparently understands the situation better than some leaders in the EU. Do you agree?

Obama has spoken in the most progressive, outspoken and informed way, while some European leaders, I don’t know why, do not succeed in saying the same things. Except for Merkel, who is on the right side of history. On immigration, Merkel has had a positive role. Now she has to continue and push for the adoption of the “Immigration compact” presented by Italy, a comprehensive plan for securing the Mediterranean area.

It is not enough only to secure the route from Turkey to the Balkans. This agreement was necessary, but it is not enough. And this agreement needs to be implemented in full respect of international law, of humanitarian law, the rights of refugees need to be respected, not only of the Syrians. Turkey must do it, and we need to control it. But we need to think about the Mediterranean, and the Italian proposal answers the challenge.

I heard that during one of the successive EU summits held over the refugee crisis, Hungarian Premier Viktor Orbán warned of 50 million Nigerians planning to cross the Mediterranean.

I was not aware of such information. But it is clear that if we don’t strengthen the capacities of the new government of Libya, if we don’t assist it, if we don’t invest in the wider region, if we don’t succeed together to control our borders, it is possible that a major flux towards Italy would happen. The Italian proposal should be quickly adopted, in order to manage the influxes together with the local authorities, also investing in development and addressing the roots of those influxes.

But Austria readies a ‘Plan B’, contemplates closing the Brenner pass, and is in the process of adopting of very harsh asylum legislation. Today (28 April) journalists asked the Commission to comment on this controversial legislation, and the answer was that they will wait until the end of the legislative procedure. Do you think the Commission is up to the task?

I spoke to [Commission First Vice-President] Timmermans, and he expressed all his indignation, and so has [Home affairs Commissioner] Avramopoulos. And I know the positions of [Commission President] Jean-Claude Juncker. I know that he is of the same opinion. Juncker has taken a position against Orbán’s silly idea [sciocca, repeats it]. I find no other adjective to qualify this decision to erect walls, to put up barbed wire.

It’s clear that the European Commission should undertake measures. The European Parliament asks for it. But it is not possible to punish a country, because it exceeds by 0.2% the parameters of the Stability Pact, and do nothing against a country that infringes the European rules and values. Does it mean that anyone can do anything in Europe? If we go this way, then Europe is finished.

Isn’t the European Parliament divided over this? Are the Socialist MEPs from Austria on the same board like you? By the way, Austrian Premier Werner Faymann is a Socialist…

The Austrian members of my group agree with me completely. You can ask them. I have been the first to ask (for) the suspension of [Slovak Prime Minister] Fico from the Party of European Socialists [over anti-Muslim comments, among other things].

But he is still a member.

But I’m not making the decisions. The Party of European Socialists decides. The Socialists and Democrats group [in the European Parliament] has asked for his suspension. The PES must decide. It doesn’t depend on me. If I could decide, he would be suspended.

Regarding Faymann, he is a great political personality and I sincerely regret he has taken such positions. And the electoral result [of the first round of the presidential election] is clear: when you imitate the xenophobic right on those issues, you lose. Because the voters, who are imprisoned by fear, chose the original, and not the photocopy.

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