European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Tuesday stressed that Greece is “on the right path” following talks in Athens with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who indicated that he has secured the EC’s support for his government’s bid to bring back negotiations on collective labor contracts.
Meanwhile Greece got 7.5 billion euros in bailout funds following the completion of a review by creditors, the head of the European Stability Mechanism, Klaus Regling, told reporters in Athens on Tuesday.
Greek authorities are to use 5.7 billion euros to pay off maturing debt to creditors with the remainder to go toward paying off a chunk of state arrears.
Juncker and Tsipras discussed Greece’s progress in implementing reforms and its prospects for growth in a meeting that was said to be exceptionally cordial.
In a joint press conference with Juncker, Tsipras said, “I know the conviction, the opinion of Jean-Claude, for the need for talks on collective labor contracts to return to Greece.”
He also referred to a joint statement the two men made on the subject last summer “at a difficult time… during the course of negotiations.” Driving the point home, Tsipras said that his government’s aim to boost growth “cannot be based on the crushing of labor but on a modern and safe model for growth.”
Juncker, for his part, stressed that the Commission is “a friend of Greece.” He added that Greece had cleared a significant hurdle and is now “on the right path.”
“The results are encouraging,” he said. He added, however, that both the Greek government and the Greek people “must have ownership of the Greek program,” stressing that what is being asked of Greece by its creditors is not to take orders from Brussels but to take the initiative and implement reforms.
Juncker also stressed that efforts should be made to accelerate the process so Greece can access the so-called “Juncker package” of European Union subsidies for growth-oriented projects.
However, he avoided making statements on the thorny issue of Greece’s debt, broached by both Tsipras and President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, who met earlier in the day with Juncker.
Tsipras said that Greece has completed most of its commitments to creditors and that action must be taken soon to relieve the country’s debt.
Pavlopoulos made similar comments earlier. He said Athens had fulfilled its obligations and will continue implementing reforms but that it is now down to creditors to inject liquidity into the Greek market and relieve its debt. Pavlopoulos also hailed Juncker for his decisive effort to secure Greece’s position in the eurozone.
Tsipras and Juncker also discussed the European refugee crisis and Greece’s ongoing efforts to accommodate more than 50,000 people and process asylum applications.
“I am taking this opportunity to express my admiration for the Greek people,” Juncker said. “An outside observer cannot know or imagine the burden they have had to shoulder,” he said.
“This is why no one should disparage them. I demand respect of the Greeks’ dignity,” he added.