Madam Prime Minister,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
[Review of the Latvian presidency]
I would like to pay a heartfelt tribute to the achievements of the Latvian presidency. As you said yourself, Madam Prime Minister, this was Latvia's first presidency. What an experience and what a performance this has been for a first presidency. Thank you, on behalf of Europe.
I believe you have done an exemplary job and I commend you for what you have achieved. I would particularly like to thank you for successfully tackling a number of proposals that the Commission introduced just before the start of your presidency or during this period, notably relating to the investment plan. What a fine collaborative effort by the presidency, and hence the Council, and the European Parliament, to bring this ambitious project to a successful conclusion in just a few months. In paying tribute to you I am also paying tribute to Parliament, which stepped up to the plate when needed.
Inspired by an ambitious presidency, the Commission wasted no time in presenting a number of proposals, some of which you have just mentioned: the energy union, the capital markets union, the digital union – all of this was possible because the Commission felt supported by a presidency which set its sights high.
I would like to commend your negotiating skills. It is true that the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty has brought some changes in the role of the Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers. We now have a permanent presidency of the Council, so the Prime Minister no longer has to chair the European Councils. We have a High Representative who chairs the Foreign Affairs Council. We have a permanent presidency of the Eurogroup, which slightly lightens the burden on the Finance Ministers. How I would have appreciated these conditions during my final presidency as Prime Minister of Luxembourg, when I had to chair the European Council, ECOFIN and the Eurogroup. So believe me, I know the constraints, the highs and the lows of a presidency. You pulled it off with flair, and I would like to pay tribute to your many negotiating skills and particularly to the exemplary and distinguished work by your permanent representative. We the Prime Ministers and Presidents may be geniuses, but without those who do the real work we are nothing. So I would also like to pay tribute here to the excellent Latvian civil service.
[Situation in Greece]
This evening we will have another European Council meeting on Greece.
And on this subject I would like to say a few quick words. I read in the national German press that 'Juncker has disappeared'. I would warn you not to rejoice too soon. I did not make any statement on the Greek referendum either on Sunday evening or yesterday. Sometimes that must be permitted, and some others would do well to do likewise - and this includes the hecklers too - to reflect before they speak. I did not disappear, I am speaking for the first time on the subject of the Greek referendum in the European Parliament. This is the home of democracy. Quick interviews with the press cannot replace any debate in the European Parliament. Either we respect the European Parliament, or we give quick interviews. I am here in the Parliament, because this is where I bear responsibility and this is where I report to. And I would also like to say the following. I do not want to start with this but I will say it at the beginning nonetheless. The role of the European Commission on the subject of Greece has been heavily criticised in some Member States, mainly in those where the same language is spoken as the one I am using at the moment.
Either the Parliament wants to have a political Commission, in which case the Commission must also be allowed to express itself on political matters. Or the Parliament and others want a Commission made up of senior civil servants. I am not a senior civil servant. I am a political leader and I nevertheless find it astonishing that everyone can express their opinion on the subject of Greece and the future of the Eurozone, apart from the President of the Commission. I will not be silenced by others. I have been elected to this position. And the same also applies, I would immediately add, to the European Parliament and the President of the European Parliament. The President of the European Parliament often attends the meetings of the European Council and presents the sentiments, the sensitivities, and the views of the European Parliament and he does that in a very pleasant manner, although not always equally pleasant for all.
The idea that the President of the European Parliament should come to the Council, make his presentation, leave and keep his mouth shut before he is once again allowed in, is ridiculous. The European Parliament is no paper tiger and also has to express opinions on matters at stake in Europe in between European Council meetings. And I am grateful to the President of the European Parliament that - although not always covered by a mandate, I also do not always have that - he very often on behalf of the European Parliament has got involved in the discussions, sometimes boldly, sometimes forcefully, sometimes persuasively and sometimes in an enlightening way. The European Parliament is no paper tiger and the President of the European Parliament is no doormat. He has to do what he has done.
Now we have a further European summit on the subject of Greece this evening. That is good. Now everyone is saying that we must respect the Greeks' vote. I do. But I would also like to understand the voting of the Greek electorate, the Greek people. They were presented with a question which cannot be asked.
We must discuss in detail what respecting the Greek vote means. This is why the question is therefore important as to what the Greeks have said 'no' to. The majority of Greeks said no to a draft text of the three institutions which was long out-of-date when it was put to the vote. Until Thursday of last week I was in intensive negotiations with the Greek Government, and the Greek Prime Minister knows very well that what the Greek people were presented with to vote on was not up to date.
In so far I will urge the Greek Prime Minister this evening – I already did this last night- to explain the Greek vote to me since the question which was voted on has not been on the table for a long time now and everyone involved in the negotiation process knows that.
Now it is not so much a question of wasting time discussing who is right. We must put our small ego or in my case, large ego, to one side and deal with the situation now facing us. And the situation is that I still think - and I will always think this to the end of all time - this is my plea – this is my will - I want to prevent a Grexit.
I want, now as before, to prevent a Grexit.
I am not in favour of a 'Grexit'.
There are those within the EU who, either openly or secretly, are pushing for Greece to be expelled from the euro zone.
I have some experience of life, and life has taught me that the simple answer is often the wrong answer. I am not in favour of simple answers. In Europe there are no simple answers. Europe means constantly striving to find compromise solutions – that was and remains our mission in the European Commission.
I don't want Greece – the great Greek nation – to feel that we want to throw it and its people out of the European currency union or out of the European Union. No one should want to expel the Greeks.
And for that reason the European Commission will do its best to ensure that work will resume on the negotiations with Greece.
What sort of European Union would it be, where people suddenly stopped talking to each other? If the nations of Europe stop speaking to each other, the EU will come to the end of the line. I believe that the time has come to return to the table – with common sense and understanding, and even occasionally with passion, since without passion we can't pull it off.
I was dismayed when the Greek delegation walked out of the negotiations. That's not how we do it in the EU. In Europe we negotiate until the very last moment. The Greek Government didn't do that and it was a serious mistake.
It goes without saying that we will once again return to the table, as we always do in Europe, and we must try to find a solution. It won't be possible to come up with answers straight away. If we found a solution today, it would once more be over-simple.
But today we will clear the way to put things right – in joint talks and in mutual understanding and mutual tolerance.
Part of this involves calling an immediate halt to the escalation in rhetoric.
I will not accept – I say this here where European democracy has its home – that representatives of the institutions are described as 'terrorists' by the Greek Government – and I especially refuse to accept that the Commission and its President should be described in this way. You can't behave like that in Europe.
Everyone has really tried hard, the Commission more than anyone else. If everyone had put in as much effort as the Commission and its President then we wouldn't be in the position we are in today.
So this evening we will be getting together again, and we will do our best to get things on track, without noisy rhetorical distractions, to reach a consensus agreement.
With all due respect to the views expressed by the Greek people, the Commission would like to know what this vote means. I'm told that it is not a 'No' to Europe. I'm told it's not a 'No' to the Euro. It can't be a 'No' to the institutions' proposals because they were no longer on the table.
So I would have liked an explanation of the vote from the Greek Prime Minister. The ball is firmly in the Greek Government's court. Today in Brussels the Greek Government must explain how it plans to move forward in this debacle.
For its part, the European Commission – and its President – is willing to do whatever it takes to reach an agreement within an acceptable interval.
The Greeks and Europeans can trust the Commission.