Tsipras calls for New Deal for Europe, end to austerity

Syriza leader says that only European left can reverse current policies that have fuelled unemployment

In debate with fellow candidates for European Commission presidency, Alexis Tsipras blasts austerity and lack of transparency and democracy in Europe, which he said prefers to bail out banks than to support people

The five leading contenders for the EU's top job (Photo: European Parliament) The five leading contenders for the EU's top job (Photo: European Parliament) Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras hammered German-made austerity and called for a European New Deal that could spur employment in his first debate with four of his fellow contenders for the post of European Commission president.

Tsipras – who inexplicably was absent at the first debate – hammered the EU's lack of an organised plan and funding to combat unemployment, stressing that only €6bn have been earmarked for the next five years.

But in his first debate showing, he attracted the greatest audience interest of all five candidates on Twitter, with 17,763 mentions.

The Syriza leader, who was the only contestant to speak in his native language (conservative Jean-Claude Juncker spoke in French), began his remarks by noting that he comes from the country hardest hit by austerity and its effects.

"My name is Alexis Tsipras and I come from a country that became a guinea pig for the harshest austerity," he said in introducing himself, underlining the disastrous effects of austerity in the EU throughout his remarks.

Martin Schulz of the Party of European Socialists, Guy Verhofstadt of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party and Ska Keller, of the European Green Party, also participated. 

Standing as the candidate of the European Left party, Tsipras repeated like a mantra that austerity is destroying Europe and he underlined the need to handle the European debt crisis comprehensively, with specific concessions for the suffering southern eurozone countries, aimed at jump starting development.

In the case of Greece, these included a major write off of sovereign debt, a moratorium on the servicing of loans, and linking the level of repayment to the level of Greek growth.

He likened the concessions to those made to Germany by the war's victors, including Greece, at a 1953 conference, known as the London debts agreement.

Essentially, he called for an international debt relief conference combined with a strong Keynesian stimulus package, designed to spur growth with job creation and to bolster social cohesion.

Without this, he argued, it will be impossible to address the overarching problem of unemployment in the EU.

"Unemployment in Europe is structural. They [the EU] support bankrupt banks," he said, suggesting that the EU has got its priorities entirely wrong.

Tsipras was especially vehement in his opposition to bank bail-ins, as happened in Cyprus, asserting that they will prove catastrophic for Europe. That clearly reversed a recent statement by Manolis Glezos, his party’s top candidate's in the European Parliament race, that richer Greeks could be forced to loan the state money.

(Photo: EuropeDecides.eu) (Photo: EuropeDecides.eu) In a more impassioned moment, Tsipras blasted co-candidate Jean-Claude Juncker, a former eurozone chair and incumbent Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, for working to topple two democratically elected governments, that of George Papandreou in Greece and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi.

Both leaders were replaced by economist technocrats and bankers.

Regarding the rise of euroscepticism, Tsipras maintained that those who now govern Europe are to blame due to their austerity policies, which he said could destroy Europe.

"We must save Europe in order to change it," he declared. "It redistributes poverty, pain and misery."

Tsipras clearly took a step back from his support for secessionist referendums in Ukraine, expressed when he was in Moscow recently, but he rejected US- and EU-imposed sanctions against Russia as ineffectual. He said that neither Nato nor the Russian military should intervene, that diplomacy should prevail and that the current Ukrainian government should not be recognised as it includes neo-Nazis, so as to "give peace a chance".

At the debate, he argued that any changes to the Ukrainian state structures should be in accord with the provisions of the constitution, and he declared that he is against any changes in European borders, which has been the line of Greek foreign policy for decades.

He said that the Ukrainian people must decide their future, but in line with a federal structure that preserves the peace.

Effectively, Tsipras supports referendums on the creation of a Ukrainian federation, but clearly not on annexation to Russia.

The Ukrainian constitution does not provide for secession.

Still, he said that the European Left - is in favour of "the self-determination of peoples".

"There must be respect for the citizens' will, but at the same time respect for international law," he said of secessionist movements in Scotland and Catalonia. "In Catalonia there should be increased autonomy in a federal framework, and something similar in the case of Ukraine."

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