Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras presented his country’s priorities for its six months at the helm of the EU to MEPs. The presidency, which started on 1 January, will focus on boosting growth and jobs, the banking union and an immigration policy based on more solidarity. Mr Samaras said there was a clear need for more and better Europe in all of these areas. However, MEPs stressed that the crisis in Greece was not over yet and that it had produced much social hardship.
Samaras said that over the last few years the EU’s cohesion and the euro had been put to the test, which showed the need for efficient European decision making. “The European Parliament must be further strengthened,” he said, adding that it would help to bring the ideals of the EU closer to Europeans.
The prime minister said that they had proved that Europe works during the crisis, thanking people in Europe for their solidarity with Greece. Speaking about the upcoming European elections in May, he said: “We want to make sure that citizens won’t vote with the bitter taste of crisis in their mouths.”
José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, praised Greece for its “courage, determination and commitment” during the crisis and said it has emboldened everyone to fight its causes and core roots. He pointed out that Europe’s main aim is now to restore employment by resuming investment in the economy. Mr Barroso also defended the principle of free movement, saying it has made a significant contribution to the EU’s growth and competitiveness.
Joseph Daul, the French chair of the EPP group, stressed the importance of taking measures at the EU level to promote jobs. “European solidarity has a job to play in saving jobs,” he said. “We need more social and fiscal harmonisation across Europe.”
Hannes Swoboda, the Austrian chair of the S&D group, accused the Troika of asking too much of Greece: “Many of the demands of the Troika are not acceptable, because they are rather destroying the social network.”
Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian chair of the ALDE group, said: “I think that we would have no Greek crisis, no European crisis, if the political class in Greece would have taken their responsibility far earlier than they do now, and at the same time if also the European leaders and European national elites would have shown their full solidarity from the beginning of this crisis.”
Rebecca Harms, the German chair of the Green group, criticised Samarass’ optimism, saying that reforms are successful only on paper. “You must act with urgency; people have a big sense of injustice. You have to bring your nation on board,” she said.
Martin Callanan, the British chair of th ECR group, said: “The people of Greece are paying the price of their own mistakes. “He mentioned that it was ironic to say that Greece has suffered more than any other country during the economic crisis.
Gabriele Zimmer, the German chair of the GUE/NGL group, commented on the efforts of Greece to stabilise its economy: “This market-driven policy led to where we are now, to a humanitarian disaster. We cannot solve problems eradicating fundamental rights of Greek people. First help the people and then ask the money to solve the economic problems.”
Greece is now under foreign control and you can’t admit that joining the euro was a mistake, Nigel Farage, the British co-chair of the EFD group, told the Greek prime minister. He said we are run by big business and big bureaucrats and expressed hope that the myth of the EU’s inevitability will shatter at the coming European elections.
“You are in make-believe land if you believe the EU is the solution,” Nicole Sinclaire, an unattached British member, told Samarras regarding his commitment to further European integration.