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.
Athens news agency yesterday (4 August) reported that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras invited the leaders to a conference in Athens on 9 September.
It will focus on the “common” challenges facing the EU on an economic, political and institutional level and particularly on austerity, fiscal discipline and migration.
France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, and Malta are expected to participate in the conference. The discussions will continue during a visit of Alexis Tsipras in Rome, where he will attend a meeting of European Socialists.
On the sidelines of the last EU summit (28-29 June), Tsipras and his Italian counterpart Matteo Renzi discussed the possibility of setting up an “Alliance of Europe’s South” to push for a pro-growth agenda.
French President François Hollande and Prime Minister of Portugal Antonio Costa seem to take same line, especially in the aftermath of the Brexit.
In April, Tsipras and Costa, both elected on anti-austerity platforms, signed a joint declaration claiming that EU austerity-driven policies are “wrong”.
“Austerity policies are keeping economies depressed and societies divided”, the two leftist leaders stressed, and expressed their dissatisfaction with the EU migration policy.
Common problems, common future?
Athens is seeking closer cooperation among the southern EU member states. Greek media reported that the Greek premier’s goal is relaxation of austerity as well as “flexibility” in the budget surplus requirements of the debt-ridden country’s third bailout.
During a recent visit to Athens, Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici warned the Greek government not to open any primary surplus discussions and focus instead on delivering the agreed fiscal goals.
“The time has come for Greece to turn the page and give an end to the micromanagement of the crisis,” he noted. Greece is also expecting to hold heated negotiations in the second assessment of the bailout programme due in September, when labour market issues will arise.
Greece and Italy are also disappointed with the stance of their partners in North Europe on the migration crisis.
In September 2015, EU leaders committed to relocate 160,000 people from Italy and Greece by September 2017. In total just 3,701 people have been relocated (2,213 from Greece and 843 from Italy).
Sources said that the French socialist government is seeking ways to cope with the rise of far-right Marine Le Pen, who now finds fertile ground for disseminating her anti-European rhetoric.
Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem recently said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s “fiscal tolerance” toward France was damaging the Commission’s credibility.
Italy is facing an unprecedented banking crisis and Renzi feels the pressure of the right-wing Five Star Movement, especially after its great victory in local elections, and now leads the polls against socialists.
Fresh from its successes in last month’s local ballots, the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement (M5S) is now Italy’s most popular party and would easily win if a national election were held today, three opinion polls showed this week.
Portugal and Spain are under huge pressure from the European Commission to cut their deficits below the mandatory 3% of GDP and both countries pledged more austerity measures to avoid fines.
Both Spain and Portugal have submitted their arguments to the European Commission in a bid to avoid penalties for breaching the fiscal rules, expected to be announced on 27 July.
Engagement in the Council
Gilles Pargneaux, a French social democrat MEP (S&D), told EurActiv.com that the Brexit “forces us to rethink the way we do things in Europe”.
“Countries such as France, Italy, Greece, Spain, and Portugal face similar challenges: migration, security, proximity of an unstable neighborhood…issues that justify enhanced cooperation between them,” Pargneaux underlined, adding that strong alliances with progressive politicians of these countries must be forged.
He said that action should be engaged at the European Council level as well and admitted that the Franco-German couple plays a major role.
“This relationship is essential but it must also assume its contradictions where they exist.”