The occasion on which this discussion on Greece is taking place in the collective bodies of the Party of the European Left is particularly interesting and exceptional. This is because this is the first discussion on the situation in Greece that is conducted in conditions in which we have realized the primary goal that we set from the moment the Left formed a government: the ending of and the clear exit of Greece from the so-called bailout programs and specifically from the 3rd and last bailout program. Since August 21, a new reality is taking shape. The decisive step has been taken so that we can move from now on with fewer external constraints and with no more continuous blackmails.
One should not underestimate this new reality, or just disregard it as a determined outcome that was bound to happen. It is true that in this long course of a 9-year crisis, before we reached the 21st of August 2018, a lot happened. The course of history was accelerated. In only five years, from 2010 to 2015, our country was rapidly transformed into a cemetery of buried hopes. Greece lost 25% of its GDP in a time of peace. The living standards and the social and democratic rights of the Greek people were brutally sacrificed in the name of a “rescue” that kept pushing the country into recession, extreme poverty, mass unemployment and brain drain. On the other hand, these brutal changes in Greek society became the basis for a huge political change that none of us could have imagined. The one that happened in 2015.
Three years later, we can say that we held strong, that the Greek people held strong. The country is leaving behind the bailout programs and the troika guardianship. For the first time, we can claim what the European Right and the IMF wanted us to do with the memorandum reforms: we can claim the “ownership” of our program, of the policies we implement. Greece, for the first time since 2010 is out of bailout programs and can stand on its own feet. The Greek bond interest rate at the capital markets stands at the same level as 12 years ago, before the start of the global financial crisis, while we have consecutive growth for a year and a half, mass youth emigration has stopped, and unemployment has dropped by 8% (from 27% to 19%).
On the other hand, this recovery of freedom and sovereignty comes about in a very strict context, formed by both high fiscal surpluses we have to achieve and the ultraconservative and irrational eurozone rules. Greece finds itself now at the same situation as that of Portugal, Ireland or Cyprus: the “post-bailout enhanced surveillance”. In any case, the degree of freedom of a country is relative; we are all under the surveillance of the capital markets and the global, formal or informal, neoliberal institutions.
If Greece’s exit from the decade-old state of bankruptcy is, objectively, the towering achievement of the SYRIZA-led government, let us not think that this came about by itself or because of the bailout programs. If we have reached the point we are today, we owe it to the fact that these three years we managed to halt the course of our society towards disintegration. To us, economic stabilization passed through social stabilization. If we are here today, it’s thanks to the fact that we managed in parallel, and, in a way, against, the troika program, to implement policies that protected the most vulnerable, were redressing some of the damage done by the catastrophic austerity or opposed the domestic pathologies of clientelism, cronyism and corruption that were responsible for driving the country into bankruptcy.
Before the SYRIZA government, our country did not have a guaranteed minimum income –a social solidarity income, as we named it. Now it does, and it covers 6% of the population. Our country did not provide healthcare to those losing their social security –almost 20% of the population had lost it– but now everyone, Greek citizens, immigrants or refugees alike, have access to public healthcare. Our country did not have school lunches, now it does, and expands them from poor neighborhoods to all primary education children. It did not have preschool education that covered the needs of all children, now it has become obligatory and preschool places increased by more than 50%.
After three years of our government, now we have a unified, digitalized system organizing welfare, so that poor people do not have to resort to clientelist go-betweens to obtain an allowance. We have a unified social security fund that equalized social insurance conditions for all and stabilized social security making it sustainable so that in the right moment we’ll be able to redress some of the unfair cuts that have taken place. We fixed social security contributions proportional to real income, thus saving hundreds of thousands of low-income self-employed and small business owners from further indebtedness.
Before the SYRIZA government, citizenship for children of immigrant families was almost impossible to attain, now there is open access to it. Civil unions were only allowed for opposite-sex couples, now they are extended to same-sex couples. We refused to see refugees as invaders and we persuaded most of our country on that. We assured decent living conditions for all refugees that apply for asylum and all refugee children have access to Greek schools.
Before the SYRIZA government, media owners were not paying the broadcasting tax, now they have paid, and they were forced to buy TV licenses, they have been broadcasting without a license for 30 years.
In this SYRIZA government, we managed in an asphyxiating context to favor the most vulnerable and pursue reforms “under the radar” of the Troika: to save the Electric Grid from privatization, to re-regulate private education by reinforcing State supervision in favor of teachers, to nationalize public transport of Thessaloniki that was for years a hotbed of corruption and clientelism and introduce free transport for the unemployed, as we also did in Athens. We have decided to phase out neo-liberal outsourcing, i.e. subcontracting services in hospitals and the public sector, thus dismantling a key pillar of the clientele-State and corruption in the established parties that held low-paid and precarious workers as hostages.
We introduced an electoral system of proportional representation in local authority and parliament elections – this is but one of the many reforms intended to strengthen democracy and improve the functioning of the State, which are too many to mention. Let me bring out, however, a historic achievement of which we are particularly proud: the Prespes Agreement between Greece and FYROM, a peace and stabilization agreement that will make possible the co-existence and joint development in the Balkans, the poorest region of Europe.
To wind up this account, let me stress something that we often overlook: Under our government, we have at last a State which is relentless with tax evasion of the wealthy and with undeclared work, and which can balance its budgets each year without a need for borrowing - an unprecedented phenomenon in the country’s history.
We have been through all that to find ourselves in the position in which we stand today, to be able to get rid of the shackles of the Troika, and even to abolish some of the memoranda counter-reforms.
A month ago, collective labour agreements in Greece have been restored. One sector of employment after another acquire at last sectoral conventions applying to all and raising the wages of a large part of employees. By January 2019, we will be able, for the first time since 2012, to increase the basic salary, while we will abolish the “sub-minimum” wage for young people under 25. We will also be able to move on to a series of tax and contribution-reliefs, which will reduce the burdens on the middle classes, and to cancel the pension cuts imposed on us through blackmailing.
Nothing of all that was achieved without a titanic political struggle. In a climate of constant, harsh confrontation with the most intransigent part of the lenders, i.e. the German Finance Ministry and the IMF, but also with their allies in Greece, that is, the kleptocratic, neoliberal and fanatically anti-left elites which led the country to bankruptcy and treated us as usurpers of their legitimate property.
As you understand, the long-term success of our government and SYRIZA does not only depend on applying left-wing policies, but also on the strategic blows we are able to give to the roots of the power of these elites, the clientele networks in the State and society and the networks of interdependence with powerful business interests. And this is a valuable lesson for any left project in Europe: To be prepared for a two-front and often lone political struggle, both within the country and abroad, in the European Councils and institutions of the European Union.
What I have just described also explains why, despite the stormy bombardment with fake news and lies which the oligarchic media unleash against us, the Greek people, especially the popular classes, realize the effort we are making and await its results to judge us on these.
Let me also say to those in Europe who foresaw and wished for the collapse and discrediting of our party, that they will be surprised by the outcome of the next election, when SYRIZA will once again give the battle toDetail be the first party in the preferences of the popular classes and the workers.
Our Party, SYRIZA, has been through a lot of hardship from the summer of 2015 until today. It picked up a desperate people on its back and gave him hope again. It took risks, struggled, received blows, encountered unprecedented challenges and blackmails, made painful compromises, but always based on a strategy of getting out of this unprecedented catastrophe that our country experienced.
I know that, in this path of conflict and compromise, we lost quite many good friends in our European political family. But I have to share with you our belief that history lasts long, and the outcome of class struggle is not determined either in a moment or in a single battle. But also, the certainty that the only safe way to destruction is sectarianism, fragmentation, elitism and the narcissism of self-assertion.
SYRIZA stands today again up and puts all its forces in the historic task of reconstructing and leading the Greek economy and society to progress. At the same time, we are working to build a large progressive front in Europe that will challenge the hegemony of neoliberalism and stop the emergence of the monster of new fascism.
The European Left must immediately reject any thought and plan that divides, splits and discovers the enemy within the Left itself. We must become a socially useful political force in Europe. And, to do so, we must: 1) develop a programmatic framework that is not limited to criticism but gives convincing answers to the problems and concerns of the European peoples; and 2) play a leading role in the battle for the unity of all progressive forces which currently pursue the implementation of an alternative, democratic and social model for Europe. Forces from the Greens and European Socialists, which are now changing their course, choosing, even with contradictions, to join ideas and proposals that the European Left itself has been advocating since its inception.
And in our effort to break the bipolarism between neoliberalism and the Far Right, we must vigorously intervene in the European public debate, by exploiting every possibility of influencing the European agenda. This is something we can and must achieve, among other things, by choosing a unifying and dynamic candidate for the Presidency of the Commission, to enable the positions and values of the Left for a radically different Europe to be heard even louder.
This weekend, the Council of Chairpersons, the Executive Board, and the General Assembly of the Party of the European Left must send the following message: That we are politically ready to respond positively to the historical challenges of our time. A message of unity, cooperation and optimism.