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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
17 September 2013
Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen,
Prime Minister Samaras and I have just concluded a very constructive meeting, where we discussed the upcoming Greek presidency of the Council of Ministers, as well as developments in the Greek economy and the financial assistance programme.
I assured Prime Minister Samaras of the Commission's support in the run-up to and during the Greek Presidency, in what will be the fifth time that Greece takes this very important leadership position. The Greek presidency will play an important role in ensuring that key legislative files are taken forward in the Council in the first crucial six months of 2014.
We will work closely with you and your ministers, Prime Minister, on seeing through the remaining proposals on a Banking Union, to deliver a successful European Semester and to kick-start programmes under the next seven-year budget – in particular, the Youth Employment initiative, which we will frontload from next year. So I really believe it's critical when you speak about growth and investment to have in place all the programmes. That is why we are working with the Council and the Parliament, and it will be indeed during the Greek presidency that we will have this possibility of having investments on the ground.
On the economy now: I want to say that I very much support Greece's efforts in implementing the financial assistance programme. Prime Minister Samaras has once again assured me of his clear commitment to see it through. The Commission continues to believe that this is essential to secure Greece's future growth and jobs, and it is already giving positive results. I really want to congratulate you, Prime Minister, dear friend, for your leadership and determination. I believe it is key for the success of the programme. I know that the Greek citizens are operating in extremely challenging and difficult circumstances, but I believe now we can say there is light at the end of the tunnel.
In fact, we expect a gradual return to growth in 2014 after six years of recession; government bond spreads haven fallen markedly since their peak in June 2012; economic sentiment has improved; the current account deficit has fallen over the last three years and Greece's debt-to-GDP ratio is set to start declining next year and fall below 120% by 2021. All these are encouraging signals when you think of the doubts that were expressed some time ago concerning Greece.
But further work is needed to consolidate these gains. The economic situation is still fragile and this is not the time to take our hands off the wheel but to roll up our sleeves.
Fiscal consolidation, of course, is necessary. Full implementation of the programme is essential on this point in order to support the return of confidence and for the sake of growth and job creation.
Stepping up the pace of structural reform is also crucial. More work needs to be done to reform the tax system; this is not only about increasing revenues but ensuring social fairness. I think it's critically important for the support of the citizens to see that the reforms are not only for competitiveness - as they should be - but also for social fairness. And when we discuss taxes this is, of course, critically important.
We believe that there is still a way to go to modernise the public sector and really put it at the service of citizens and companies.
This kind of an economic transformation takes time and you know that in the short term it and can be painful. Extremely difficult, from a political point of view, and socially quite challenging. I want to assure the Greek people that the Commission continues to stand by you and we will do it also in the future, For example, we are developing support for unemployed young people or for start-up companies through the European Union budget.
Prime Minister, dear friend, a year ago the doomsayers were predicting that Greece would have to leave the euro. Through your leadership and the determination of the Greek people they have been proved wrong. Not only that, but we see, now, better signals for the future. And you will be taking on the responsibility of a Council presidency of the European Union. I look forward to working with you at this decisive time for Europe. I know also your personal commitment to our European values and our European project.
In May, people will head to the polls to vote in the European Parliament elections, and it is very important that we make these elections a moment of European democracy.
And I'm sure that from now until then, we will make also progress in delivering concrete results. Some important decisions were taken by the European Council, by the institutions, by the governments, but we need to be sure that they are really implemented on the ground, including the most important ones, to tackle the dramatic issue of unemployment, namely, youth unemployment. That is why putting in place, on the ground, these programmes, and also doing everything we can to start or restart the financing to the economy, namely to SMEs, is so critical at this moment.
Once again, thank you for your visit. I believe we had a very good discussion and we remain of course, as always, in very close contact.