May’s European Parliament elections will be a “test for democracy,” Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said on Thursday as Deputy Premier Evangelos Venizelos expressed concern about the rise of Euroskepticism, particularly due to the impact of troika-led consolidation programs in some eurozone countries, such as Greece.
Both men were speaking at a conference organized by Kathimerini and Le Nouvel Observateur, held at the Athens Concert Hall, where they were joined by other top European officials.
Samaras appeared to share in the spirit of the conference’s title, “Go for Democracy,” when he highlighted the need for Europeans to overcome the stereotypes that have been formed in recent years. “Our challenge is to dare to converge and join forces beyond the narrow confines of stereotypes,” he said.
The premier added that despite the problems that the European Union is experiencing, it is “incomparably better” to be part of the 28-member bloc than outside it. He said that the lack of stability in the wider Mediterranean region confirmed this.
Samaras said that the rise of the far-right in Greece was a result of austerity, high unemployment and illegal immigration. He suggested that Golden Dawn would be marginalized once the Greek economy recovers.
Venizelos said European Parliament elections in May would be critical for the future cohesion and development of the European Union. The “installation of the International Monetary Fund in the heart of Europe” – as part of the establishment of the so-called troika of international creditors for Greece and other debt-racked countries – undermined the European Commission’s ability to solve problems but was introduced because European institutions proved unable to tackle EU member states’ debt crises, he said.
Guy Verhofstadt, a Belgian liberal MEP and candidate for the post of EC president, suggested that the European Union’s current modus operandi was illogical. “Imagine America functioning without a president, without an army, with only occasional meetings between the heads of different states.” He proposed the introduction of a tax on citizens of EU member states to fund the union.
Michel Barnier, European commissioner for internal markets, also stressed that European nations, and their citizens, should take a more active role in the future of Europe and its institutions.