Prisma Reports (PR): Is this the year of the ‘Hellenic Turnaround’?
AT: Yes – we are completely focused on making this happen. Last year, our economy performed above all expectations. We had a primary surplus of over 4% – 8 times higher than the projected target of 0.5% – and the projections for a 0.4% recession were proven wrong because we managed to end the year with a positive growth rate. Furthermore, the first results of 2017 – with a 0.4% growth rate for the first quarter of the year – are showing that the Greek economy is already on the path of growth. And now we are in the process of regaining trust – of our partners, creditors, markets and investors.
Our results are, first and foremost, due to the sacrifices and hard work of the Greek people. They need to see the effects of our recovering economy, in their lives, their jobs, their healthcare, their income, for example – not only in figures. That is why our main focus is now on the growth agenda. My main objective is to be the prime minister during whose term Greece returns to normality and stability, with substantially decreased unemployment.
PR: How will you achieve Greece’s 2018 GDP growth target?
AT:During the years that I am in office, we have never failed on our targets. On the contrary, we are consistently overachieving, and I think this will continue for 2017 and 2018 as well.
Our first priority is to attract direct foreign investments. After the completion of the second review and the agreement on the measures that will make our debt sustainable, we are now on a clear path to put an end to a tremendous crisis and achieve growth and prosperity. You can also take into consideration that the idea of “Grexit” is put to rest once and for all, which for me was and always will be a no-go scenario.
So, we are now in a position to support our production, to attract investments, to encourage new forms of cooperation, to revitalize our industries, to boost our exports, and, all in all, create new jobs and significantly reduce unemployment at the height of the EU average, in the years to come.
You have to bear in mind, as well, that throughout the crisis, our geopolitical status and influence remained intact, and Greece is by all means a pillar of stability in a crucial region. This has a direct effect on investments. One of our main goals and – I am deeply convinced that we can achieve this – is that Greece can become a global hub for energy, transportation, new technologies and innovation and, of course, tourism.
PR: What is the way forward for Europe?
AT: We have to learn a lesson from the founding principles of European unification and, specifically, the need to focus towards human needs, solidarity, growth, education, employment and social justice.
I believe that the time is right to make some crucial decisions. I am aware that there are members of our European family that do not share this view and, to be precise, the prospect of European unity and further integration. Nevertheless, we have to act decisively and collectively. Meaning that if the majority believes in the principles of solidarity, democracy, freedom and social cohesion, we have to keep going.
Most importantly, we have to make a decision to overcome endless austerity, because it creates divisions in Europe, and poses a threat for the European Union as a whole. It’s impossible to have a balanced EU when some countries are obliged to stay in the framework of the stability pact, and have deficits, while Germany is having a current-account surplus of about 6%. But I think we are in a position to turn the page and find viable solutions for Europe. The election of Emmanuel Macron – a strong supporter of the EU’s core values – is great news for the progressive and pro-European community. I’m confident that he will have a positive effect on the whole EU.
PR: Do you see Mediterranean countries collaborating more? What is your strategic vision for the regional and international role of Greece?
AT:We took a lead – along with France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Cyprus and Malta – in establishing the summit of Southern EU countries – an initiative that was long overdue. Our countries – Eurozone members at the borders of the EU – have very important experiences to exchange and contribute collectively, to the dialogue on the future of the EU. Particularly on confronting the crises that Europe has faced and faces – on the level of the economy, migration management and security. At the same time, we have a long history of developing bonds with the peoples of our region. As underlined in the context of the Athens Summit, there can be no new vision for Europe without a vision for peace, cooperation and development in the Mediterranean.
In this context, Greece is increasingly strengthening its role as a pillar of stability in a region of instability. While taking important steps in order to become a dynamic economic hub as I mentioned before. Our roots are deep, historically, in the development of Western civilization and today as an active EU and NATO member, and on this basis we are constantly branching out οur multidimensional cooperation in the broader region and beyond. We are strengthening our strategic cooperation with the United States to confront regional challenges, attract investment and restore growth. At the same time, in the last years we have been expanding relations with France, Italy, China, the UAE, our Balkan and Black Sea partners, as well as bilaterally and trilaterally –together with Cyprus – with Israel, Egypt, Jordan and other countries of the Middle East.
Of course, we are actively supporting talks for a just and viable solution, on the basis of UN Security Council Resolutions, regarding the issue of Cyprus. A solution to the benefit of all the Cypriot people, that will unlock the huge potential for peace and development in the region.
One of the biggest challenges that we faced were the negotiations regarding the refugee crisis that led to the EU-Turkey agreement. Despite all the challenges in our relations, I went to Turkey three times in a few months, also because I knew that the only way to resolve a huge crisis – that affects the whole European continent – was to communicate and to cooperate with our neighbor, building a positive agenda on the basis of mutual respect and international law. This will continue to be my goal. But the key factor in making sure that this migration crisis did not become an uncontrollable humanitarian one, were the Greek people, who, despite their financial difficulties, supported the refugees and protected international law and European values.