Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and other leaders in southern Europe called for action to boost flagging growth in the bloc on Friday, saying they needed a bigger say in Europe. But the Athens summit drew outright derision from some European Union policymakers who saw it as an attempt by Greece to ease pressure over the reforms needed under a multi-billion euro bailout accord.
At a euro zone finance ministers’ meeting in Bratislava earlier on Friday, lenders called on Greece to stay on track to meet its obligations on reforms before getting any new aid money.
Holding court in Athens, Tsipras with his counterparts from France, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Cyprus and a representative of the Spanish government, said priorities of Europe needed a re-think.
The group is often referred to as ‘Club Med’, even though Portugal is not on the Mediterranean.
“We need to take measures which spur growth and employment and which reinforce the feeling of security among European citizens,” said Tsipras.
Flanked by European leaders, including French President Francois Hollande, he added: “We aspire to be an initiative of dialogue which seeks to unite Europe more, and not to divide it.”
Friday’s meeting was held against the backdrop of faltering growth in the bloc, a deepening migrant crisis and British plans to quit the EU.
EU leaders were scheduled to meet in Bratislava next week. At that meeting, Hollande said, leaders wanted to put forward ideas on security and defence, growth, and the migration crisis, which should not exclude the right of people to asylum.
“It is important (that) when the populists hope that Europe is going to fall apart that we should send out a message of unity and cohesion,” said Hollande.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said number-crunching needed a rethink. “Europe can’t just continue reeling off rules, technicalities, fiscal (issues) and austerity,” he said.
“The Europe of tomorrow must be based on its deeper values. A social Europe, of ideals and of virtue.”
Greece has made a point of saying the Athens summit is not intended to drive a wedge within the bloc. The next meeting of the grouping was scheduled in Portugal, Tsipras said. But this triggered derision in some quarters of the EU.
The summit in Athens drew criticism from German lawmaker Manfred Weber who chairs the European Peoples Party Group in the European parliament.
“Prime Minister Tsipras is up to his usual tricks again. What Europe needs now is unity and definitely not new attempts of division,” German lawmaker Manfred Weber, who chairs the European Peoples Party Group in the European parliament, said in a statement.
He urged Athens to deliver on promised reforms under its third bailout. “The fact that (French) President Hollande – probably for internal political reasons – and (Italian) Prime Minister Renzi are letting Mr. Tsipras manipulate them is not really a sign of responsibility,” Weber said.
Greece signed up to a third international bailout in mid-2015 worth up to 86 billion euros, with the gradual release of aid contingent on financial reforms ranging from privatisations to changes to the energy market.
The country has already passed a raft of pension and tax reforms.