Greece was now a very different place from the country that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had visited in 2014, when she was last in Athens, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras noted on Thursday, during a joint press conference with the German chancellor after the conclusion of their meeting.
“Then it was a country on the brink of a precipice, with a teetering economy and a society that was suffering and in anguish. There were one million unemployed, a paralysed social state, broken-down protection systems for the weakest and no real hope of recovery,” he said.
Among the topics discussed in their meeting was the importance of peace, stability and growth in the Balkans for the future and security of Europe, Tsipras said.
“We stressed the importance that the Prespes Agreement has for the region and for Europe, as a step forward and a model agreement for other disputes, which shows that mutually acceptable solutions – without one side imposing something on the other – are possible,” he said.
Tsipras also highlighted the rising danger of the far right in Europe and the role that the dominant economic dogma played, in his opinion, in feeding the growth of far-right and anti-European populism, highlighting the need to counter this by building a social Europe and a new architecture for the Eurozone.
“We stress, together with the Chancellor, that this is the greatest danger for Europe,” he said, referring to the far-right forces seeking to increase their influence in the upcoming European elections.
Referring to Greece’s experience, he said that Greeks had struggled to cope with measures that were unfair, often incomprehensible and sometimes just ineffective, which had tested social cohesion in the country, but were now “emerging from the crisis for good,” Tsipras said.
Relations between Greece and Germany were also tested during the eight-year crisis, he added, “but we were able to overcome this great challenge” and leave the stereotypes behind, despite some intense clashes, hard negotiations and difficult compromises.
Despite significant ideological and political differences, both then and now, “we were able to find a common ground because the priority was to rescue Greece but also Europe itself,” Tsipras said, expressing his pride that Greece was no longer part of the problem in Europe but part of the solution.
“We have the will and the strength to say no to centrifugal forces that propose national entrenchment, nationalism and racism as the answer to the economic and geopolitical challenges of globalisation,” Tsipras said.
They also agreed with Merkel on the crucial need to establish a comprehensive European policy for asylum and migration and to revise the present system, Tsipras added, calling for a policy “with stronger support mechanism for countries on the front line, a strong returns mechanism and an upgrading of the EU’s relations with origin and transit countries.”