As the European Parliament convened in Strasbourg, France on Wednesday all eyes—and ears—were aimed at Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras as he made his case for why the European Union must change its handling of the financial crisis in his own country and across the continent.
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Arguing that his people—who overwhelmingly rejected the terms of a previous deal in a referendum on Sunday—have suffered more than enough living inside a "laboratory for testing austerity," Tsipras said his goal is to keep Greece in the eurozone, but that a "viable agreement" must replace what has been so far offered from the group of foreign creditors known as the Troika.
"We want an agreement that will give a final end to the crisis and show there is light at the end of the tunnel," Tsipras declared. So far, he argued, the bailout funds have not gone to help the Greek economy or the people, but instead have been funneled back to financial interests which have received political firepower from maneuvers by the European Central Bank, the IMF, and the most powerful members of the European Commission.
"The money that was given to Greece never went to the people," he continued. "The money was given to save Greek and European banks."
As the Washington Post reports:
Tsipras addressed the European Parliament after an emergency summit of European leaders called to salvage Greece’s financial rescue broke up acrimoniously late Tuesday.
Greece was ordered to deliver a new plan for securing a fresh bailout by late Thursday. It would need to be quickly assessed by European technocrats and then presented to the region’s leaders at a hastily scheduled summit on Sunday.
Chances of a breakthrough, however, remained in doubt, with failure potentially meaning the rapid exit of Greece from the euro currency union.
During his speech in parliament, Tsipras said that on Thursday his government would offer "some very specific proposals" on what new deal should contain.
Given a new Sunday deadline to forge a new agreement, it was reported on Wednesday that Greece has filed a proposal for a new round of financial aid under the eurozone’s bailout programme, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). While the nation's banks remain shuttered and capital controls still in effect, the ECB so far has been stubborn to unlock additional emergency funds until a full settlement has been reached.
In his remarks, Tsipras acknowledge that the current situation reaches far beyond Greece. "We all understand that this debate is not exclusively about one country," he said. "It is about the future of our common construction, the EU and Europe."
When not speaking, Tsipras sat and listened while MEPs from across the EU spoke for or against the idea the Greece should be offered a new lifeline and whether or not an economic paradigm shift is in order.
Making the case that "never-ending austerity policies... is simply not working" and should be ended while also keeping Greece in the eurozone, an open letter from five internationally-known economists—Thomas Piketty, Jeffrey Sachs, Heiner Flassbeck, Dani Rodrik, and Simon Wren-Lewis—explained why Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Troika should abandon their failed policies and forge a new path for the single currency. :
The humanitarian impact [of austerity in Greece] has been colossal—40 percent of children now live in poverty, infant mortality is sky-rocketing and youth unemployment is close to 50 percent. Corruption, tax evasion and bad accounting by previous Greek governments helped create the debt problem. The Greeks have complied with much of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s call for austerity—cut salaries, cut government spending, slashed pensions, privatized and deregulated, and raised taxes. But in recent years the series of so-called adjustment programs inflicted on the likes of Greece has served only to make a Great Depression the likes of which have been unseen in Europe since 1929-1933. The medicine prescribed by the German Finance Ministry and Brussels has bled the patient, not cured the disease.
Together we urge Chancellor Merkel and the Troika to consider a course correction, to avoid further disaster and enable Greece to remain in the eurozone. Right now, the Greek government is being asked to put a gun to its head and pull the trigger. Sadly, the bullet will not only kill off Greece’s future in Europe. The collateral damage will kill the Eurozone as a beacon of hope, democracy and prosperity, and could lead to far-reaching economic consequences across the world.
In the 1950s, Europe was founded on the forgiveness of past debts, notably Germany’s, which generated a massive contribution to post-war economic growth and peace. Today we need to restructure and reduce Greek debt, give the economy breathing room to recover, and allow Greece to pay off a reduced burden of debt over a long period of time. Now is the time for a humane rethink of the punitive and failed program of austerity of recent years and to agree to a major reduction of Greece’s debts in conjunction with much needed reforms in Greece.
To Chancellor Merkel our message is clear; we urge you to take this vital action of leadership for Greece and Germany, and also for the world. History will remember you for your actions this week. We expect and count on you to provide the bold and generous steps towards Greece that will serve Europe for generations to come.