Greek crisis divides European Socialists

Not so red: Syriza critic Martin Schulz [SPÖ Presse und Kommunikation/Flickr]

Syriza’s call for a July referendum has revealed strong divisions within the Socialists & Democrats group. EURACTIV Greece reports.

Greek lawmakers on Sunday (28 June) authorised Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ proposed 5 July referendum, setting Greece on course for exiting the eurozone.

>>Read: Greek parliament approves 5 July referendum

Dramatic developments during the weekend saw Athens declare a six-day bank holiday after talks with its creditors broke down.

>>Follow the latest developments in EURACTIV: Live: Grexit? The endgame

Until now, the European People’s Party has been the most opposed to the Syriza-led government, holding it responsible for the bailout deadlock.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz has also been critical of the Greek government, but it seems his views are not also shared by his like-minded colleagues in S&D.

Schulz: Doubts for the referendum

“We deeply regret that Prime Minister Tsipras has led his country and his people into this dramatic situation. The behaviour of the Greek Government has been irresponsible during the whole negotiation process. The fact that no agreement could be found is its sole responsibility,” said yesterday (28 June) EPP’s leader, Manfred Weber.

Schulz also strongly criticized the Greek premier, saying that Alexis Tsipras was leading Greek people into a deep crisis, and that he never actually wanted an agreement between Athens and its international creditors.

Speaking on Sunday (28 June) to German state broadcaster ZDF, Schulz said that even democratic practices like a referendum could become subject to political exploitation and a possible “no” did not exempt the Greek government from its responsibilities.

The German politician also emphasised that the creditors’ proposal on 25 June was not an ultimatum to the Greek government, and said that along with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, he would launch a “Yes campaign” for the Greek referendum.

Earlier this month, Schulz remarked, “Greeks, like Mr Varoufakis (really) get on my nerves.”

In Athens, the finance minister responded to the German Social Democrat, saying, “It’s not the first time some European Parliament official is not up to his institutional role.”

Pittella: We are not afraid of the referendum

In the meantime, S&D Group president Gianni Pittella has been a strong supporter of the Greek premier, Alexis Tsipras, ruling out any scenario of a possible Grexit.

“Any hypothesis of Grexit has to be seen as unacceptable. Europe is strong as long as it acts and speaks as one”, he underlined in an interview with EURACTIV Greece before the Greek national elections in January.

In a press release published on 27 June, the Italian Socialist said that it was not time to further punish the Greek people and that S&D was not afraid of the Greek referendum.

“Everything must be done to keep the financial flows inside the country. Confronted with an unprecedented situation, Greek people must be offered the chance to choose their future. We are not afraid of any referendum”, he stressed.

On Monday (29 June) sources in Brussels confirm that Pittella has called for an extraordinary summit EU summit, on Greece, while meeting with arliamentary leaders.

“Responsibility for finding the solution to the Greek case must be taken at the European institutions’ highest level, i.e. by the Heads of State and Government,” said S&D Group vice president, Maria João Rodrigues.

The division is now obvious

A high level source from the S&D group confirmed to EURACTIV Greece today (29 June) that there was an obvious conflict between Schulz and Pittella.

This has not been raised, though, due to the stance of the Greek national delegation.

“This division has not (come to) the surface as the Greek socialist party (PASOK) has not raised the issue,” stressed the source.

The Pan-Hellenic Socialist Party is the S&D affiliate in Greece, and is now taking a tough stance against Syriza. It was a PASOK government that signed the first bailout agreement with the European Union and International Monetary Fund in February 2010.

Fofi Gennimata, the newly-elected president of PASOK, blamed the Greek coalition government for irresponsibility regarding the referendum.

“Take back your decision about the referendum and immediately go for elections,” she said, adding that the real question of the referendum would be “in or out” of the EU.

In addition, the same S&D source said that Schulz’s stance could be attributed to his political ambitions for Germany’s Chancellery, and blamed him for “hiding behind (the) EPP’s intransigence”.

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