Agreement is "within arm’s reach" on Greece, says PM
Greece/government statement on the situation in Greece and what is at stake for Europe – Speech by M. Manuel Valls, Prime Minister, in the National Assembly (excerpts)
Paris, 8 July 2015
In the last 70 years, Europe, that old dream, has become a reality for our countries and our peoples. Together, with determination, we have transformed our history and sealed a lasting peace, ensuring that democracy takes root across the continent, from the South to the East. That is a magnificent achievement, by nations which combined their strengths and their destinies in order to carry more weight economically but also politically and diplomatically.
Europe is a voice that carries. Of course, it has weaknesses and failings, democratic deficits that still need to be made up for, and economic difficulties, it is undeniable. But we must be sure of one thing: without Europe, we would lose not only an ideal but also a great part of ourselves. In a world that is changing so fast, our nations would find themselves alone, their strength diluted. They would be weakened and gradually lose their footing.
The government wanted today’s debate to take place so as to involve the nation’s representatives at this crucial moment first and foremost for Greece and the Greek people but also for ourselves and European integration.
Ladies and gentlemen deputies, we need to refuse a Europe of resentment, punishment and humiliation. A Europe where anti-Greek or anti-German feeling could emerge – they are already emerging here and there – and where egoism, rejection of others and populism would take root. A Europe where, at the end of the day, the weakest would be left to their own devices.
Europe is about pride in who we are, not turning inwards. It is about respecting peoples and individuals. Between France and Greece, between Paris and Athens, there is a very strong, irreplaceable historic and cultural link.
Greece is, of course, the cradle of Europe, thanks to its history and culture, and the democracy it brought us. In the early 19th century, the song of freedom of the Greek people, winning their independence, was sung by French poets, writers and artists – Chateaubriand and Hugo, Delacroix and Lamartine.
Greece is a great European country. It is in the European Union, and has been in the European Community since 1981, thanks in part to France and the efforts of President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. At that time it was emerging from the dictatorship of the Colonels.
Some great characters have been part of this common cultural soul that we have forged. Great names and works of literature, music and cinema have great resonance here in France. Examples include Mélina Mercouri, and Costa-Gavras, who cast great French actors – amongst others – in a film dedicated to his own country: Z. And of course, lest we forget, Jacqueline de Romilly, a Frenchwoman who dedicated her life to the Greek culture and language, so much so that she was honorifically naturalized by Greece in 1995.
Greece is a French passion, and Europa, the goddess who gave her name to our continent, is central to our mythology. We therefore need to remain faithful to the past, as well as to the future of this relationship.
Greece is also aware of what Europe has brought it. We therefore need to hear the messages of a people who have been subjected to unprecedented austerity, not just in words but in deeds. No! By their vote, the Greeks did not seek to burn their bridges with Europe! They did not say no to the euro! For, deep down, everyone knows how terrible the consequences of leaving the single currency would be. Everyone knows that it is not possible to leave calmly and smoothly.
An exit from the euro unavoidably means a collapse in income; soaring prices of imports, including for basic necessities; and social, political and public order consequences that nobody amongst us is capable of predicting. Is that what we want for the Greek people? Is that the image of Europe that we want to project to the world? No! In any case, that is not France’s position.
Europe needs solidarity, ladies and gentlemen. But in the face of the colossal challenges of our times, it also needs unity and stability.
Keeping Greece in the euro, and thus at the heart of Europe and the European Union, is also, as you know, a geostrategic and geopolitical challenge of the utmost importance.
I do, of course, have in mind our relations with Turkey, with the Balkans that are still fragile, and the tensions at Europe’s eastern borders. Through its links, including with Russia and the Orthodox world, Greece is a major player in the Eastern Partnership.
I also have migratory issues in mind. Along with Italy, Greece is currently one of the countries that is most exposed to the mass influx of migrants. As a NATO member, Greece is also Europe’s forward base with a Middle East that is flaring up. So to weaken Greece would be to weaken ourselves collectively. This weakening Europe with repercussions for the global economy. This worry is shared by the American and Chinese leaders, and we need to hear and listen to their concerns. The world is watching us, is watching Europe, and is wondering what will happen.
That is why France, and first and foremost the President of the Republic, aware of what is at stake, are sparing no efforts to find solutions and enable a convergence of points of view. With the President, I am working ceaselessly to ensure Greece fulfils its commitments, so that a people’s choice is heeded while Europe’s cohesion is ensured. That is the condition – the sole condition – under which we will reach an agreement that satisfies all the parties.
That is, after all – contrary to what we sometimes hear, and only recently – the history of Europe: reaching common solutions and building together, respecting democratically elected governments, while respecting the sensitivities of all, which are not the same in Dublin, Bratislava or Lisbon.
Nothing is easy, obviously. The arguments are real and the risks are serious, very serious. That is why France, as a founding [EU] member, maintains its position and draws from within that strength which has always made it a guarantor of Europe’s destiny. That is our role. We cannot give in to resignation, because France means choosing not to give in but to act.
We carry Europe in ourselves and in our hearts. We know its huge price, but also its incalculable wealth. We cannot shirk our historic responsibilities. I say this here, in front of the nation’s representatives: the President of the Republic is playing his full role, methodically and resolutely, with a sense of history.
Yes, France is doing everything possible – as is its role and as is expected of it – alongside its partners, drawing on the strength and cohesion of the Franco-German partnership.
France’s role is compromise, ladies and gentlemen deputies, for that is how we build Europe! France’s role is not to break, to exclude, to overturn the table. Its role is to build, alongside Germany in particular, Europe’s future. When what is essential is at stake – and that is the case – France and Germany, together, have the duty to rise to the occasion. Of course, we may each have our own sensitivities: that is true for governments, true for parliaments and true first and foremost for peoples. Obviously, our public sensitivities may differ at those times, but the strength of this relationship is that we are able to move forward together.
Both our countries know well that this relationship is not exclusive, but it is unique as, together, we have the ability to take the lead. We are two sovereign countries, aware of our responsibilities.
The meeting at the Élysée Palace on Monday evening was essential to restore ties with all players and, despite difficulties, get things moving. And it was at the Élysée Palace that the President of the Republic and the German Chancellor made it possible to move forward, a few hours after the referendum. Everyone should be pleased about that!
Nothing is easy, but it is up to us to rise to the occasion. That is what the President did again, alongside the German Chancellor, on Monday, and last night in Brussels, with the Minister of Finance. I commend the determined action of Michel Sapin, who has, since the outset of the negotiations, constantly stepped up discussions and done his utmost to share France’s vision and support Greece. I want to thank him for his action in support of our country’s interests, and those of Europe. His task, as he knows, is far from being finished in the coming hours and days.
Ladies and gentlemen deputies, I want to make this clear: France’s determination is absolute. And if we are working so actively, that is not – as I have heard in some quarters – because we are being pulled along by Germany or – as I have heard in others – because we are indulgent with the government of Alexis Tsipras. Such contradictions between the criticisms! No, it is because it is in our own interests: France’s and therefore Europe’s!
Ladies and gentlemen deputies, fully understanding the current situation means looking back over the last decade. Greece saw great economic growth during the 2000s, partly thanks to the stability offered by Euro Area membership and to European Union assistance. But it was unable to modernize its economy and reform its administration, put in place taxation worthy of that name and carry out the necessary changes, be it to the public or the private sector. Thus, when the financial crisis broke out, the Greek economy was already very fragile, with extremely high public debt and a great trade gap. The preventive mechanisms to anticipate a crisis in the Euro Area did not work. Crisis management mechanisms had to be invented urgently, and thus by trial and error. Without the solidarity of its European partners, Greece would have been bankrupt in 2010. That was avoided by providing it with massive financial support – close to €240 billion – and putting in place a reform programme to help its economy recover.
France, with its previous majority, supported that. I refuse to enter into a polemic at a time when we need unity and togetherness, and France needs to speak with a single voice. Today, to accept a Greek exit from the Euro Area would be an abandonment totally contradictory to the choices France has made, with our principles and with our values. It would be an admission of weakness. I refuse that, in the name of what France is. France refuses Greece’s exit from the Euro Area, in the vary name of our principles and commitments.
I am convinced that the Greek people refuse to exit the Euro Area. That is not the decision they made, and we cannot tell them to leave the Euro Area in the name of some – I don’t know what – idea of Europe.
To say here, in this assembly, that it’s the Germans who decide for Europe is to misunderstand the reality of what we’re experiencing, what Europe is and what Chancellor Merkel herself thinks. She was with the President in Paris on Monday because she’s aware of what is currently at stake. She knows that Germany needs France and that France needs Germany! Why, in this assembly, pit France and Germany against each other, when we all agree about moving forward together?
At the cost of real efforts, often painful for the people, and which nobody should underestimate, the Greek economy had certainly not recovered at the end of 2014, but growth had returned, and the public budget was producing a primary surplus. However, the problem of the debt remained unresolved and the Greeks could not see the fruits of their efforts.
In early 2015, the newly elected Greek government wanted to review the terms of the assistance programme, and in particular the detail of the reforms required for Greece to receive the rest of the planned financial assistance. The talks were long and difficult – I won’t go back over that – but, two weeks ago, we were very close to an agreement. The institutions – the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – had made new proposals, including, in particular, a reduction in budgetary targets. The aim was to allow Greece to honour its past commitments while –and this is the most important thing – returning to growth.
The Greek government decided, however, to break away from the negotiations unilaterally – which disappointed us, as Michel Sapin and I said here only a week ago – and organize a referendum to allow its people to express their opinion. That was a sovereign decision, and it isn’t up to us to discuss it.
Yesterday’s summit in Brussels allowed dialogue to resume, a process to be restarted and the link we need so much in order to move forward to be restored. That was necessary. This work of dialogue needs to continue, for the foundations have been laid in recent months. We are convinced that an agreement is within arm’s reach. The condition for it is, as the President of the Republic emphasized, solidarity. It is also the responsibility not only of member states but of Greece too. France and our European partners legitimately attach great importance to that, and especially those who, in recent years, have made considerable efforts, indeed sacrifices. Europe is not an unlimited drawing right, it is a set of common rules to respect. Without that, union is impossible! France is fully mobilized, true to its values, to help Greece, but the Greek government also has to want to help itself. It is therefore also up to the Greek government, on the strength of the support of five democratic political groups of both its majority and the opposition – I’m thinking of New Democracy and Pasok –, to be equal to its history and the history of Europe. It is also a moment of truth for it.
The bases for a complete, comprehensive and sustainable agreement are known: firstly, necessary, detailed reforms to modernize the economy and get it back on its feet and build a solid, responsive, effective state, a fully functioning state, in order to make progress on essential issues such as VAT and pensions, while protecting those with small pensions. Implementing those reforms is the essential condition for a new financial support package to be granted.
Second point of the agreement: resources to finance Greece’s growth, for, as I’ve said, that is what the Greeks first and foremost expect. The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has proposed a package of €35 billion, which must provide the Greek economy with the oxygen it needs to restart.
Thirdly, and lastly: a clear prospect regarding debt treatment [is needed]. No subject is – or should be – taboo. It is essential to establish a sustainable trajectory for Greece’s debt in the coming years. That is vital for moving towards a sustainable solution to the current crisis.
Concluding this agreement is a matter of urgency. As we know, we have little time ahead of us.
This morning, the Greek government formally submitted its request for a new assistance programme under the European Stability Mechanism. I would like to say here that this request is balanced and positive. It shows real determination to move forward and reform. Indeed, we aren’t the only government to say so: others have already been saying this since this morning. It is therefore an important step which must enable the dialogue to produce concrete results in the coming hours and days.
On Thursday, the Greeks will present a full programme of precise reforms for the short and medium terms, because we need visibility. On Saturday, based on the evaluation carried out by the institutions, a new Eurogroup meeting will take place, ahead of another meeting of heads of state and government on Sunday.
We therefore have four, five days. Put simply, but with conviction: to some extent it is Europe’s future as a political enterprise which is at stake. It is time for action.
I want to be very clear: as the President of the Republic said last night, after the European Council, the National Assembly will be asked to decide, regardless of the result. If there is an agreement, the National Assembly will have to vote on it.
Euro Area/economic governance
Ladies and gentlemen deputies, Europe requires humility as much as unwavering determination. It has been built gradually and even in fits and starts. Its ability to overcome crises has helped it grow. Whether we like it or not, Political Europe is being tested, painfully and in a climate of uncertainty.
But deep down, all of us here have called for this Political Europe, disappointed as we were by a Europe that focused solely on an economic project. Here it is. It is up to France, the Franco-German tandem and all the member countries to seize the opportunity offered by the crisis: the opportunity of a strengthened Euro Area and therefore a stronger Europe because that, too, is a matter of urgency.
We need to acknowledge the real progress that has been made in recent years to strengthen the Euro Area. It is much more robust than it was just a few years ago, thanks to tools like the European Stability Mechanism and banking union. However, as shown by the Greek example, work to deepen the Euro Area is still far from complete. The issue that is emerging is, of course, that of Europe’s economic governance. This isn’t new, it has always been France’s position. It can be considered that this governance is being put in place, but not quickly enough. We need to speed up, opening an economic and social convergence agenda and promoting an ambition to move forward in the social arena – whether as regards salaries or fighting any form of unfair competition – by conducting an economic policy for the Euro Area to ensure that the single currency fully supports growth and jobs in the countries of both the North and the South and with – I know that this is a very difficult issue, including here in Parliament – genuine democratic representativeness.
All those challenges are ahead of us. After the urgent issues are resolved, we will also have to address those challenges, ladies and gentlemen deputies. As always, France will have to be – and will be – proposing initiatives for Europe to maintain its position, move forward and remain close to its people’s hearts, and continue building its history.
There are fundamental questions about the nature and consequences of this debate, here in France, as well as in other countries. I reiterated what links us to Greece and the fact that we are one of Europe’s founding countries. After the generation of Europe’s founding fathers, those who built it, like Valery Giscard d’Estaing and Helmut Schmidt, François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl, our generation has the responsibility of preventing Europe from breaking up. I refuse to accept a European Union country having to leave the Euro Area because the other countries decided it; it would be serious symbolically and quite simply amount – for a country such as Greece – to leaving Europe. We cannot let that happen. Everyone has responsibilities, starting with the Greek government. But, in the very name of that history, of our values, of France’s role, we want Greece to remain at the heart of Europe. France will do everything it can to ensure it does./.
European Union/Greece – Interview given by M. Harlem Désir, Minister of State for European Affairs, to Radio Classique (excerpts)
Paris, 10 July 2015
Q. – Your first reaction this morning on Radio Classique: how do you react to this new package of proposals Alexis Tsipras made yesterday evening?
THE MINISTER – It’s a very important moment for Greece, but also for Europe. The proposals that were passed on are a serious, credible, comprehensive package of reforms concerning the modernization of government departments, the state and the economy in Greece. As you’ve seen, they concern taxation, the fight against tax avoidance and corruption, the fact that shipowners should be subject to taxes, pensions reform, and balancing the budget in the future. These proposals also, I believe, signal a determination to combat cartels and a number of rigidities in the Greek economy.
It’s what was expected, what was being asked for. In exchange for the support, the assistance, the financing provided by the European Union, there had to be an assurance that the rigidities and problems in Greece’s government departments would be resolved, so as not to create a bottomless pit.
I think when there’s such a strong, serious commitment on the part of Alexis Tsipras and his government, it must be possible to complete the negotiations. That’s what France has always wanted. It’s why France has been totally mobilized since the beginning of the week, while others may have been thinking the solution was to exclude Greece from the Euro Area, which was, I believe, the worst approach.
Q. – Will we have an agreement tomorrow, or on Sunday, by Sunday? Can we manage to find a positive way through this?
THE MINISTER – That’s our goal. It’s why the French President has been constantly mobilized since the beginning of the week, hour by hour, constantly in touch with all the Euro Area heads of state and government concerned and the representatives of the institutions.
First he got people on Tuesday evening to agree to Greece being given time to pass on its requests. As you know, the first thing passed on was a letter on Wednesday in which Greece made very clear commitments to remain in the Euro Area and respect its rules.
Then, very late yesterday evening, the detailed reform plan was passed on with a very specific timetable, with some of the measures that could be adopted in the coming weeks, particularly those concerning VAT and taxation. They’re what are called emergency measures which are also serious guarantees of a desire to change the country. That’s also why Alexis Tsipras was elected.
He believes he also has a mandate for this. The referendum he won also gives him legitimacy to get his own majority, and the parties he managed to bring together following the referendum, to agree to reforms which hitherto haven’t been carried out, not just for five months but for 10 years, and which have led the Greek economy to disaster.
Europe must now stand alongside that country and give it the opportunity to remain in the European family. That’s our idea of Europe. The risks if Greece had to leave would be terrible, not only economically for Greece itself but also politically for the EU, for its unity, for citizens, who would see its fragility, and for the other players in the world, who would tell themselves that we’ve been unable to resolve this problem. But also geopolitically because if you look at a map, you see where Greece is, the crises surrounding it, the situation in the Balkans, the situation in the Mediterranean, the problem of migrants and the terrorist risk, which isn’t far away.
Q. – We do understand.
THE MINISTER – The risks would be considerable. So those who are proposing a soft exit, a Plan B, are really taking incredible risks, because you can’t organize chaos. What you have to organize, on the contrary, is stability, solidarity, which goes hand in hand with responsibility; that’s what the Greek government has just shown by passing on its proposals. (…)./.