Greece and its debt problem are back on the EU’s agenda. A team of EU officials and representatives of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are expected to return to Athens to evaluate whether the country has implemented the latest reforms agreed under the current bailout, a necessary step for further international support. MEPs discussed the situation during a debate on Tuesday 14 February and called for urgent action to help improve the situation.
During the debate Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis said that Greece was implementing significant structural changes across all areas of the economy and had made major fiscal efforts. However, he added: “There is no room for complacency.” He also said that a staff-level agreement between Greece and its creditors should be “within reach”.
Manolis Kefalogiannis (EPP, Greece) held the current Greek government responsible for much of the problems facing the country today: “It is important that our country emerge finally from the crisis and that it orientate itself towards Europe. What we need is to get investment going again.”
Responding to Dombrovskis’ assertions, Udo Bullmann (S&D, Germany) wondered: “if we are on the right path, why do we hear voices from member states who are worried about Greece leaving?” He also pointed out that things had gotten more serious with the presence of refugees in Greece.
“Young people are out of a job, SMEs have been closing down, and there have been savage cuts to pensions too. The implementation of these measures has turned Greece into a huge cemetery,” said Notis Marias (ECR, Greece). He also criticised Eurogroup leader Jeroen Dijsselbloem for “not daring to come to the Parliament”.
Sylvie Goulard (ALDE, France) questioned the role of the IMF and whether its involvement was still needed within the eurozone: “Following years of debate, we are still in crisis management mode [...] with a huge grey cloud above our heads.”
Dimitris Papadimoulis (GUE/NGL, Greece) said: “Eurostat figures show that Greece is returning to growth and has fulfilled the objectives. We have a primary surplus which is four times bigger than that agreed and for 2016, despite the IMF’s forecasts, we have some growth.”
“The country can overcome its difficulties,” said Sven Giegold (Greens/EFA, Germany) . However, he noted: “Policies [in Greece] are being carried out which actually have a background in the politics of other member states.”
Accusing the Troika of “playing a comedy with the Greek government and people”, William Dartmouth (EFDD, United Kingdom) said: “The inconvenient truth is that Greece is wholly unable to pay its debts. [...] You shall not press down upon the Greek people this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify them upon the cross of the euro.”
Barbara Kappel (ENF, Austria) said: “I think that the German finance minister’s opinion that the IMF should remain involved is the right assessment.”
Finishing the first round of contributions by MEPs, non-aligned Greek member Georgios Epitideios asked: “How can this Union have a future when its leadership collaborates with IMF loan sharks to impose on Greece’s proud people new intolerable measures tantamount to genocide.”
The IMF and EU countries disagree on the policies the Greek government should implement for the country to emerge from the economic slump it has found itself in and also on whether it is in need of debt relief, something that the IMF has been pushing for. The euronzone's finance minister meet in Brussels on 20 February to discuss the situation.
Greece has enough money to fund itself until July, when the country has to make a €7 billion debt repayment.
Meanwhile, the financial crisis has taken its toll on the Mediterranean country and the people living there. Greece's government debt increased from 109.4% of gross domestic product in 2008 to 179.7% in 2014 and currently stands at 177.4%, according to Eurostat.
The country's unemployment rate has also remained high: fromnearly 8% in 2008 to 27.5% in 2013 before slightly dropping to 24.9% in 2015.
This week representatives from the IMF and the EU go to Athens to finalise a policy review of the Greek bailout programme. Also the euro zone's finance ministers meet in Brussels on 20 February.