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Europe has plenty to thank Greece for. Germany and Greece have been close friends and partners for decades. Many Greeks have found a new home in Germany. They came to us as so‑called guest workers or fleeing the military dictatorship. They enrich our country. Hundreds of thousands of citizens with Greek roots connect us to the cradle of democracy.
German‑Greek relations are a topic of particular importance to me. In the one short year that I’ve served as Minister of State for Europe I’ve already visited Greece six times.
It was important to me to do so to send a signal: Germany is standing firmly in solidarity at Greece’s side – especially in the difficult economic and social crisis that the country has been going through over recent years.
The fact that elections in our EU partner countries arouse interest and cause a stir goes to prove that a European public does exist. The results of elections in France, Slovenia or Greece are just as important to us as elections in our Länder (federal states). Therefore it is good that we look towards Athens, Thessaloniki and Syros.
Yet it is also true that parliamentary elections, including early elections, are a run–of–the–mill democratic procedure in the EU. I therefore advise us all to show somewhat more composure and confidence in the run‑up to elections.
For on 25 January it is the citizens of Greece who will have the floor. We should not interfere with Greek election campaigns from here in Germany, especially not with hyped‑up debates about disaster scenarios. And moreover, here in the German Bundestag we should avoid analysing elections before they’ve taken place, when not even a single vote has been cast.
On the contrary, we should now be focusing on how we can encourage Greece to resolutely continue along the path of reforms which it has embarked upon and how we can dispel any fears of reform that people have. For there is still work to be done: the Greek economy needs to be put back on an even keel, the state needs to be further modernised and structural reforms must be implemented consistently so that the social equilibrium can be re‑established.
The people in Greece now need jobs and prospects for the future – especially the 1.2 million Greeks who are unemployed. More than one in two young people in Greece are currently unemployed. It is a tragedy, and not only for Greece but for all of us. Thus the EU and Germany will continue to stand ready as partners to actively support Greece.
The reproach of a policy of pure austerity is simply false. The European agenda has become the focus of the three‑track strategy of budget consolidation, structural reform and growth and investment to raise employment levels – in fact it was the German Government that pushed for this.
Have a look at the policy of recent months: we are taking forward concrete initiatives on growth and social cohesion, both in Greece and elsewhere in Europe. We now need bold and determined action to implement them.
The German Government is sure that our good cooperation will be continued with the incoming Greek Government.
The goal of entire German Government and the EU is to keep Greece in the eurozone. There will be no change of course when it comes to this matter.
We are therefore pleased that all relevant political forces in Greece are also advocating that the country retain the euro. Likewise, the EU Commission has made it clear that membership of the eurozone is irrevocable. The European treaties do not contain any terms providing for an exit from the monetary union and so we shouldn’t let ourselves become embroiled in phantom debates.
In recent years, Greece has implemented comprehensive reforms – consolidating its budget and undertaking structural economic change in particular. These achievements, for which the public made many painful sacrifices, deserve our great respect.
Greece’s reform policy is paving the way to economic and social stability. The efforts made in recent years will pay off.
Together with the incoming Greek Government, we should do everything we can to ensure that the positive change that was achieved in 2014 is not put at risk unnecessarily. We must continue resolutely along this path.
We stand in solidarity with Greece. There are treaties and agreements with Greece that we feel duty‑bound to respect. Germany has always been a reliable partner for Greece, and as partners in the eurozone we want to continue to work for growth, employment and social cohesion.