Tsipras heads meeting of Med states

Posted on September 9, 2016

epa05532024 Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (L) and Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades (R) attend a joint press conference at the Zappeion Mansion in Athens, Greece, 09 September 2016. Alexis Tsipras called a Mediterranean EU member-states leaders' meeting in Athens for dealing with joint challenges relating to migration, security and the economy, ahead of the EU's Informal Meeting of the 27 Heads of State or Government in the Slovakian capital Bratislava on 16 September. EPA/SIMELA PANTZARTZI EPA/SIMELA PANTZARTZI©EPA

The leaders of five Mediterranean EU member states convened in Athens in hopes of cementing a political alliance that will allow them to exercise more influence over European policymaking on economic growth, regulating flows of asylum seekers and tackling social inequality.

“Our countries were hardest hit by the economic crisis . . . and are now on the front line of the migrant inflows . . . We need a common approach, common positions,” said Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, who hosted Friday’s gathering of heads of state and government of France, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus and Malta.

    For Mr Tsipras himself, who first proposed the idea of an EU “southern front”, with the backing of French President François Hollande, the summit was an opportunity to play a new role.

    The Greek premier has recast himself within days from radical opponent of austerity policies to a European statesman committed to building a broad-based regional initiative.

    Left-of-centre leaders across the continent, many of them hit by falling approval ratings, seized on the Greek premier’s proposal. It was first aired two weeks ago in Paris, where Mr Tsipras was attending a meeting of European socialist leaders as an observer.

    Yet Greece’s lacklustre record on economic reform suggests that Mr Tsipras may lack credibility in his new role.

    While the prime minister was in Athens expounding his vision of looser EU policies, some 800 miles to the north in Bratislava, his finance minister, Euclid Tsakalotos received a stern message from other euro area governments that he needs to work harder to implement difficult reforms.

    Our countries were hardest hit by the economic crisis . . . and are now on the front line of the migrant inflows . . . We need a common approach, common positions

    – Alexis Tsipras

    Jeroen Dijsselbloem, speaking after chairing a meeting of euro area finance ministers on Friday in the Slovak capital, said that countries were dissatisfied with Greece’s efforts in recent weeks to meet a set of policy objectives that Athens signed up to in return for bailout money.

    “There’s no doubt that we have lost time,” said Mr Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister, adding that what was at stake was “trust from the outside world in Greece and the Greek economy”.

    He also suggested that Athens’ performance could factor into the International Monetary Fund’s deliberations on whether or not to participate in the Greek bailout — a decision the IMF is due to take by the end of this year.

    Pierre Moscovici, the EU’s economy commissioner, echoed Mr Dijsselbloem’s message, saying that so far Athens had met only two out of 15 “milestones” needed to progress to the next stage of the bailout programme and release the remaining €2.8bn of Greece’s most recent aid tranche.

    In Athens, some observers were sceptical of their premier’s initiative. They claimed the move had as much to with reinvigorating the Syriza-led government’s flagging popularity after a fresh round of pension cuts and tax hikes than finding solutions for southern Europe’s persistent problems of low growth, high unemployment and in the case of Italy and Greece, large inflows of refugees and migrants.

    Tony Barber

    Europe’s migrant crisis is back with a vengeance

    Italian officers rescue a woman from a crowded wooden boat carrying more than seven hundred migrants, during a rescue operation in the Mediterranean sea, about 13 miles north of Sabratha, Libya, Monday, Aug. 29, 2016. Thousands of migrants and refugees were rescued Monday morning from more than 20 boats by members of Proactiva Open Arms NGO and Italian military officers. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

    The Mediterranean remains the world’s deadliest maritime area for refugees

    “This is a political show put on by Mr Tsipras at a moment when his government is feeling the strain,” said Aris Hatzis, an Athens university professor and political commentator. “He is preparing the way for Syriza to transform itself from a radical left party into a social democrat party.”

    Two recent opinion polls showed the Syriza-led government trailing the centre-right New Democracy party by 10-11 percentage points.

    “The economics and politics in southern Europe are a complete mess and getting, worse. Tsipras recognises this and sees opportunity for more co-ordinated action at the EU level to influence the debate over economic policy, similar to what the Visegrad states did over refugees,” said Mujtaba Rahman, managing director of the Eurasia Group risk consultancy. (He was referring to the so-called Visegrad Four countries in central Europe — Hungary; the Czech Republic; Poland; and Slovakia).

    Along with Mr Hollande, Friday’s turnout of southern leaders brought together Matteo Renzi, the Italian premier; Antonio Costa, the Portuguese premier; Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades; and Joseph Muscat, prime minister of Malta. Spain sent its European affairs minister after Mariano Rajoy, the interim prime minister, turned down Mr Tsipras’s invitation.

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