Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was congratulated for “bringing back Greece” during his presence at the European Parliament while addressing MEPs at the fifth ‘This is Europe’ debate in Strasbourg, France, July 5.
“No society before the Greeks dared to believe that order and freedom were compatible, and with the return of war in our continent… we are reminded of the importance of safeguarding democracy hand in hand with our rules-based order to preserve freedom over autocracy,” said European Parliament President Roberta Metsola, introducing Mitsotakis.
Greece is poised to become an energy hub, accommodating imports of lower cost renewable energy into Europe, signaling a “new age for Greece,” Metsola said. This summer will also see Greece’s exit from the Eurogroup’s enhanced surveillance framework in place to steer Greece’s economy out of the crisis which began 12 years ago.
“It was not easy,” Metsola said. “This year marks the end of a cycle of restrictions and close monitoring, a new era of sustainable economic growth is opening up for Greece and its people. Today, we salute Greece and every Greek citizen for this important milestone achieved.”
In his speech, Mitsotakis said that Greece was ultimately able to overcome the political and economic woes that almost led to its exit in 2015 from the eurozone, despite challenges.
“No European society has suffered more than Greek society in the past decade,” Mitsotakis said. “Greece in 2022 cannot be compared to Greece of 2015… seven years on… those images are now distant memories.”
Among achievements Mitsotakis noted were an increase in investments in business in Greece, a reduction in unemployment, a more efficient public sector and digitization of services, lower taxes, and an increase in the minimum wage. He also pointed out that Greece addressed its final commitment to the IMF two years in advance.
“Who would really have believed some years back that Greece, which was at the end of the line in terms of development ten years ago, would be third in line now,” Mitsotakis said. “We have turned the page. We have changed.”
In addition to being among the top growing economies in Europe, Greece is on the front line of fighting for the future of the EU – in the EU’s response to the pandemic, as well as in protecting the external border from Turkey’s instrumentalization of migrants and its aggression against Greece and Cyprus.
“One thing is for sure. Greece will not see anyone questioning its national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and I’m sure in this ongoing struggle, we will have all of you on our side,” Mitsotakis said.
Referring to Russia’s war against Ukraine, the Greek PM stressed that there is only one side to take – that of democracy, justice, peace, and international law.
“There have been unprecedented changes happening across the planet,” Mitsotakis said. “The unprovoked invasion of Ukraine… upsetting the energy situation… the nightmare of shortage of food is re-emerging in many countries around the world.”
Asking for more solidarity on these fronts, Mitsotakis also called for EU enlargement in the Western Balkans, in parallel to a push for more integration, especially in energy and defense, underlining the role that Greece is ready to play in enhancing the EU’s energy autonomy and green transition, through an array of infrastructure and cooperation initiatives in the East Mediterranean.
“We’ve made the crisis into a driving force…this is a country which is coming out of a very painful, tragic crisis financially and is hit by another but is striving to remain focused on its aims and support society,” Mitsotakis said.
The EU needs to protect the freedom and prosperity that previous generations fought for, while continuing to build a European identity and fighting for lasting stability, he concluded.
“All of you who helped us to stay as a supporter of democracy in the most democratic of countries, that was a moment of solidarity…yes, there have been dramatic crises, but we learned from them,” he said.
In reaction to Mitsotakis’ address, some MEPs focused on the Greek government’s successes in some areas of the economy and its important role in safeguarding the EU’s external border, while others pointed to the persistently very high unemployment rate and migrant issue.
“European governments have failed us for 40 years. Even Europe’s richest countries were never rich enough to allow most families to raise two to three children in modest comfort,” said Gunnar Beck of the Alternative for Germany party, asking Mitsotakis to resist allowing migrants to enter Europe in order to combat the current population issue.
According to Eurostat, the population of two-thirds of EU regions is projected to decline by 2050 as compared to 2019. “Greece was under Ottoman rule for centuries…you have no reason to adopt Germany’s guilt complex,” Beck concluded.
A few MEPs also focused on the large number of reports of illegal pushbacks of asylum seekers and concerns about the country’s recent record in respecting EU values, and the rule of law and media freedom in particular.
“Other member states have put Greece in an unfair position…they breached the principle of solidarity by refusing a common responsibility for asylum seekers,” said Tineke Strik of the Dutch Green Group. “We could be allies in combating these selfish policies to have geopolitical answers to geopolitical conflicts, but sealing off the borders, deterring, and pushing back refugees is not the European answer.”
Other MEPs asked for more green and social investments, especially for young people. Mitsotakis confirmed that he is in favor of coordinated action to rein in skyrocketing energy costs, which would also protect the European Union by limiting the space for populist narratives.