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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Statement by President Barroso following his meeting with Antonis Samaras, Prime Minister of Greece
4 December 2013
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,
We had just now a very productive meeting with Prime Minister Samaras and also several members of the Greek government.
It was a very open, friendly, constructive meeting.
This visit is proof of our mutual desire to work closely together during the upcoming Greek presidency on our shared goal of strengthening Europe's recovery.
Of course, we have not only discussed the Greek presidency, but that was the main topic of our talks today.
I assured Prime Minister Samaras and the Greek government of our full support over the next six months for this presidency, and I was glad to hear from him that Greece's priorities are largely in step with our own.
This is a crucial time for Europe as we seek to finalise key pieces of legislation before the European elections in May.
Our top priority is to firm up the recovery, with a particular focus on combatting youth unemployment and improving access to finance for companies. I know the Greek presidency places a similarly strong focus on these areas.
One of the keys to success is making sure that Member States work better together to implement growth-boosting reforms under the European Semester.
Second, the European Union's new seven-year budget is a trillion-euro investment fund for Europe, and I would urge all member states to make the best use of it when it gets off the ground in January.
Greece is particularly well-placed to benefit from the budget, as it now performs above European Union average when it comes to absorbing structural funds to support growth. In fact, Greece was some time ago one of the last in the list of absorption capacity and is now the fourth. This shows that it is possible to make reforms, that if you work hard we can have results.
And I really want to encourage the government to use these funds to tackle high unemployment, and in particular to implement a youth guarantee. The implementation of these funds can be, in the short term, a very important contribution to growth and to investment because there are still huge problems when it comes to financing the economy and of SMEs.
Third, one of the most important things we can do at European level to strengthen the recovery is to complete the Banking Union, as the Commission has been saying loud and clear. We need to adopt the Single Resolution Mechanism before the European elections and make sure the Single Supervisory Mechanism gets up and running next year.
We must also keep up the momentum on our other ideas to deepen the Economic and Monetary Union, and make sure it continues to have a strong social dimension and that we link to the existing rules in place under the European Semester.
The Commission's vision is set out in our Blueprint for a deep and genuine Economic and Monetary Union, which matches increases in responsibility and economic discipline with more solidarity and financial support. Solidarity and responsibility is what Europe needs. Some insist only on solidarity, others insist only on responsibility and discipline. In fact, we need solidarity and responsibility. I hope that the December European Council will strike the same balance in its conclusions.
The Greek presidency will also be instrumental in taking forward proposals to boost trade and the single market, as well as discussions on a future energy and climate change framework to 2030. I am also glad to see the presidency focusing on boosting human mobility and maritime issues. These are priorities which will allow us to set sail together for sustainable growth and job creation.
We have also - in a separate meeting with Prime Minister Samaras, Vice-Prime Minister Venizelos, Minister Stournaras and Vice-President Olli Rehn - touched upon developments in the Greek economy and the financial assistance programme.
I really want to tell you that I very much appreciate the determination shown by the Greek citizens and the Greek authorities during this exceptionally difficult time, and I want you to know that the Commission stands by Greece and the efforts of the Greek people to build a better future.
Greece has made impressive progress over the last year, and the hard work is paying off. Greece is set to emerge from recession next year and is on track to reach a primary budget surplus. This progress is also attracting the attention of international investors.
For instance, with the help of the Commission and the backing of the European Union's budget, the Greek government has finalised negotiations and signed agreements to restart work on four large motorways. Once endorsed by the Greek parliament, we will approve these vital projects, which could create thousands of new jobs and send a positive message to other potential investors that Greece is open for business.
However we know that the economic situation is still fragile and this is not the time to fall victim to reform fatigue. More work is needed on the fiscal package, tax and public administration reform, privatisations and improvements to the business environment and product and service markets. I have encouraged Greece to use all the means at its disposal – including the help of the Task Force that I have created for Greece – to fully implement the programme.
Prime Minister Samaras, I really want to thank you for your commitment, not only for the courage and determination that you have shown facing the extraordinary challenges that your country knows, but also your commitment to Europe.
And we have discussed this also today. Sometimes, when we speak about Greece, we express our admiration for the contribution of Greece to our civilisation. Europe would not be Europe without Greece. Europe would not be Europe today without the contribution of Greece, from philosophy to mathematics, from theatre to literature – the world would not be the same. And this is a debt, a very profound debt that we all have, in our civilisation, to Greece.
But it is not only the classic Greece we admire. We admire the resilience, the capacity, the hardworking Greek people. And we believe that now – to use an image that the Prime Minister has used – we are in the last miles of the marathon. This is not the time to relax our efforts: not the one who is running, but also it's not the time for those who watch just to watch and not to support. We need to succeed in these final miles of the marathon.
As we have seen in the latest indicators coming from the markets, they are expressing now more confidence in Greece than some time ago. Greece was very close to insolvency some time ago, very close to a real and extremely difficult situation, from an economic and social point of view. I know that it was with great sacrifices, but Greece can now look to the future, somehow with more confidence. So let's work for this.
And I hope and believe that the Greek presidency is going to be a great opportunity to show that Greece is not only able to solve its problems with European solidarity but Greece is also able to give an important contribution to the European project.
With the lessons learned from this crisis, Greece can be also leading the European Union, bringing its special sensitivity to so many problems, from the Balkans to maritime policy, which Greece knows much better than most of our Member States.
I really appreciate the quality of the exchanges, Prime Minister and dear friend. I wish you all the best for this presidency and, above all, all the best for you and for the Greek people in the very important tasks that are ahead of you.