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Statements of Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Venizelos and the President of the S&D European Parliamentary Group, Hannes Swoboda

Monday, 02 December 2013

Statements of Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Venizelos and the President of the S&D European Parliamentary Group, Hannes SwobodaE. VENIZELOS: It is a great pleasure to welcome Hannes Swoboda, the President of the Parliamentary group of the European Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, here to the Foreign Ministry, along with select members of the Parliamentary Group who make up the delegation.

My pleasure is double, because I welcomed them here not just as the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, ahead of the Hellenic Presidency, but I also welcomed them as the President of Pasok, a party that participates in the European Socialist Party and participates with a strong group of MEPs in the Parliamentary Group of the European Socialists and Democrats.

The priorities of the Hellenic Presidency are well known. They are priorities that express the concerns of European societies and, naturally, Greek society. Who does not want growth, new jobs, employment for young people in Europe? Who does not want to protect the European social state, on healthy fiscal and demographic foundations? This is a vital need for the countries that have been hit hard by the crisis, as well as for all the other countries.

Who does not want us to deepen our economic governance institutions? Who doesn’t want a banking union that will guarantee the deposits of all European citizens? This is of very great importance for transparency, for competitiveness, for the prospects of the European banking system to strengthen entrepreneurship, investments, the real economy.

Who does not want to protect Europe’s borders, protect the European coastline? Management of migration flows, without humanitarian crises like the tragic events in Lampedusa and Sicily? Who does not want to see the problems being faced by the Arab world confronted at their source?

And of course it is obvious that for a country like Greece, who will hand the Presidency on to another Mediterranean country, Italy, comprehensive maritime policy is a horizontal priority. Because the sea offers us opportunities for investments and employment in fisheries, in energy, in environmental protection. It offers us new institutions, like the Adriatic-Ionian Macroregion. It enables us to utilize the International Law of the Sea in the sensitive Mediterranean space.

Finally, the Hellenic Presidency coincides with the run-up to the European parliamentary elections, and thus with a major debate on the new European narrative. And for us, the European Socialists and Democrats, the challenge is very great. Because the citizens of Europe are waiting for us to given them an alternative proposal, the alternative narrative for a Europe that can be secure, developed, competitive and, at the same time, socially sensitive. A Europe that gives jobs, hope, prospects, protection and, at the same time, is competitive.

I am pleased because the response from the colleagues of the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament was very warm. We also talked about foreign policy issues, and I am certain that under the leadership of Hannes Swoboda, who is a major European parliamentary figure, the Parliamentary Group of the European Socialists and Democrats will fight hard during these critical six months, which are the six months of the Hellenic Presidency and the six months of the European elections.

H. Swoboda: Thank you very much, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.

For us the Greek Presidency has multiple importance. Of course, it's important at the end of the parliamentary period to have a strong presidency, because there are many issues still to solve. Deputy Prime Minister Venizelos has described, for example, concerning economic governance the banking union, one of the elements. The whole social issues, because we need social criteria, also especially for the European Monetary Union, migration issues – very important to tackle.

I want to underline the second point, which is to give support to the Greek government and to Greece as a country. Concerning economic issues again, Greece is in a deep crisis, but we want also to appeal to everybody, including the troika, to recognize the enormous work this government has done to reform Greece, Greek administration for example.

Of course, there are many things to do, but no country can make all these changes in a few days, or a few months, even in some years. It's an enormous amount of work which has been done, not always recognized.

And I want also to appeal to the European Commission, to the Council, and to institutions like the troika to recognize what has happened, and not to demand things which are unacceptable, because they would torpedo the support of the population for the government in this difficult time.

The migration issue is another issue which is very, very important. With the difficult landscape Greece has, it's an enormous task which Greece has to take up. Again, things have to be done, and have to be improved, especially in the Mediterranean area.

It's very important to have common European interest and common European activities. So the support of the Socialist group in the European Parliament is wholehearted support of course for Greece as a country, for the government, and of course for the participation of PASOK in the government.

As I said, and as the Deputy Prime Minister said, it is not an easy task. It would be easier to go out and say, "look, you have to do the job, and we observe from the outside." But it's the responsibility of PASOK to be inside, to fight for the reform process. But again I think it's high time everybody recognizes the progress which has been made by this government, knowing that further steps have to be taken, but further steps are already in preparation.

So we think it will be a very, very fruitful presidency; low key concerning money, but not low key concerning the content and the objectives of this presidency. Thank you very much.

JOURNALIST: The question is for both of you. I would like to ask whether you discussed the confronting of neo-Nazism in Europe and joint initiatives during the Greek Presidency.

E. VENIZELOS: During our talks, we did not refer to the phenomenon of Golden Dawn – which, as a party, covers for a criminal organization – to the phenomenon of neo-Nazism. Because we have discussed this many times in the past, and the stance of the European Socialists and Democrats is very clear. It is a priority of every progressive European citizen to oppose the phenomenon of fascism, of Nazism, of racism, of xenophobia and all forms of violence – political or social. With the Group of the European Socialists and Democrats, and with the European Parliament in general, we will organize a number of events and other activities during the six months of the Presidency. This is a given. They have been scheduled and are being announced gradually.

H. Swoboda: Just a brief comment. You know we are very, very strict on these issues, of fighting extremism, any kind of extremism, and right-wing extremism.

We were also debating the role of European parties, because right-wing extremists are also trying to organize a European party, but at the end of the day it is a fight of the society against it.

And we are very, very concerned about some tendencies in some member-countries – it's not only a Greek problem: some members are not trying to reform society, are not cultivating tolerance, and thus they are not moving ahead. And that is something I think we should not accept, and I'm very happy about the determination of the Greek socialists, and also the of government in general, to fight against criminal organizations who hide behind political movements and political parties.

JOURNALIST: Mr. President, Mr. Swoboda and Mr. Venizelos, you said in your statements that Greek society is under great pressure – Greece has done many things, but our partners won’t hear of it. As the European Socialists and Democrats, how will you help, in practical terms, the country that is currently going through a very difficult economic crisis and wants to exit that crisis? Might it be the case that you can’t, and thus the country will come out on the other side, as you said, and society will come out on the other side, with all the phenomena that we are experiencing on the political level? Thank you.

H. SWOBODA: look, it's very easy and very difficult at the same time. I looked at the figures the last days about the Greek development, and there are very good signs for Greek development. But there is one limitation: Europe is not going into a growth policy. As long as you don't have growth in Europe, how can you transform the low labour costs in exports, for example?

Therefore I fully agree that it is not right to put the whole the burden on Greece, or some other countries. The burden must be taken up by all the European Union. We hope that with the new German government, there will be no radical change. But there will be some more support for growth policy.

We are fighting for investment, because investment is necessary to bring forward growth in the EU: private investment and public investment. Letting down Greece is done by not growing in Europe. That is the most important negative effect on Greece and some other European countries. If we choose change for growth – and this will be the main element in the coming months, hopefully with support from the Greek government as a whole – we will move from an austerity policy to growth policy.

You have done a lot of reducing labor costs. Portugal, Spain and Italy have too. You have reduced the number of people working in civil services, in the administration. So, many of the reforms have been done, but how can you transform that into new jobs? Only if there's growth in the European Union.

Therefore, this is the main attack we will have, and this will be the main attack also for the elections to the European Parliament. Because the lack of growth, the lack of investment, the lack of jobs – this is what most concerns people, and sometimes this is transformed into radicalism on the other hand.

JOURNALIST: Did you confer by telephone yesterday with Mr. Schauble and Mr. Rehn regarding the course of the negotiations and the course of the Greek debt? Can you talk to us about the content of your talks?

E. VENIZELOS: I am in ongoing contact with all the major European players who can impact developments in Greece. Because as President of Pasok, I participate in an extremely important network of European socialists and progressive parties; because as Foreign Minister I am in ongoing contact with my colleagues; and because as former Finance Minister I maintain relations and my contacts with the European economic and financial community. So it isn’t news for me to talk to the competent Commissioner or to a Finance Minister.

In fact, the two names you mentioned in particular are two friends, following the difficult experience of managing the crisis. But naturally the subject of these talks is always, ‘what’s happening in Europe, what’s happening in Greece, how will we move ahead to emerge from the crisis?’

It is of vital importance that we achieve this: a definitive exit from the crisis, a change in the atmosphere, a calming of the situation in Greek society and the Greek economy. I will not say anything about the content of these talks. What I want to say, making an additional observation regarding what Mr. Swoboda said earlier, is that the international private sector, the enterprises, the funds, the Banks – they have understood that the situation in Greece has changed; that Greece is an opportunity for investments, for growth. And we want our institutional partners to understand this attitude we are seeing from the international private sector.

We don’t want favors. We don’t want a political ‘negotiation’ where the word political means ‘not economic,’ ‘not just.’ What we want is just the opposite: a serious economic discussion on the definitive exit from the crisis, but not a sterile, bureaucratic discussion. A conversation that is dynamic and has a historical conscience of the moment in which Europe finds itself.

Thank you.