Economy on ‘positive track,’ but vigilance vital

Former EU commissioner and the current first president of the French Court of Accountσ talks about European challenges, Turkey’s waning EU prospects

Economy on ‘positive track,’ but vigilance vital

Despite the overall good performance of the Greek economy, “vigilance is still required” as “weaknesses remain,” former EU commissioner and the current first president of the French Court of Accounts Pierre Moscovici told Kathimerini in an interview ahead of his three-day visit to Athens that concludes Wednesday.

He refers to the current geopolitical situation and the need for Europe to stand on its own feet. Moscovici also expresses hope that the deterioration of Turkey’s performance in all indicators hopes is reversible. He adds, “Though the relationship between the EU and Turkey must be improved, membership is no longer relevant.”

What is your reason for visiting Greece?

I accepted the invitation of my counterpart, Ioannis Sarmas, president of the Greek Court of Audit (the country’s top financial court), who has launched a process to strengthen the powers of the institution, similar to the campaign I undertook in 2020 at the French Court of Accounts. The two institutions maintain strong ties as the Greek Court of Audit was established on the model of its French counterpart, and my visit must strengthen this bond further: The supreme audit institutions (SAIs) of the two countries will sign a bilateral cooperation agreement and I invite our Greek friends to join the French-speaking SAI community. We are also independent judges with jurisdictional duties. In France, as well as in Greece and in more than 40 other countries that already have SAIs with such powers, it is easier to impose sanctions for administrative errors or refer to civil or criminal courts any violations of the prudent management of public money. This enhances good governance and helps better tackle defamation cases. In Greece I can meet with the many friends I made when I was European commissioner. At the time, I argued that austerity was not the appropriate remedy and I fought so Greece could gradually exit the bailout era without resorting to these programs. In the period we are now experiencing, with weak economic growth combined with a high debt ratio in the EU, I am returning to share with them a common vision.

‘I am proud that the support measures have paid off’

What is your outlook on the Greek economy?

The Greek economy registered one of the highest eurozone growth rates in 2022 and even if it slows down in 2023, the trend remains positive and it will allow further recovery of public finances and the consolidation of the banking sector. As finance minister and then as European commissioner for economic and financial affairs, I followed the Greek crisis very closely. I am proud that the support measures have paid off and I am glad that Greece is back on a positive track. Of course, weaknesses remain. Efforts must therefore continue and vigilance is still required. Greece, which is committed to the European Green Deal, must also invest mainly in its ecological transition, digitalization and infrastructure.

Could Europe find itself at the center of a US-China rivalry?

Europe is more than ever before at the center of major geopolitical and strategic challenges. The model of liberal democracy which prevailed after the end of the Cold War is now challenged by illiberal democracies, populist or even authoritarian regimes. The war in Ukraine has caused a paradigm shift that is shaking Europe. In this new environment, we must not forget that Europe is not a given and never will be. It must promote the rule of law and freedom, while learning to command the language of power in a world polarized between the US and China. We share the same democratic values as the US, we belong to a substantial military alliance with them, we participate in the same international bodies. Europe must make its voice heard.

In recent years, several countries have tried to test Europe’s strength on its periphery. One of these countries is Turkey. Do you think the West has lost Turkey or is this crisis temporary?

I took a stand when the question was raised in 1999 over Turkey’s EU accession, a perspective in which I saw a promise of adhering to common values as well as supporting a Greek-Turkish rapprochement. However, 20 years later the situation is different. There is a backsliding in fundamental rights, freedom of expression, the independence of the judiciary and the functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey. Hopefully, this backsliding can be reversed. In any case, even though the relationship between the EU and Turkey must be improved, membership is no longer relevant. Turkey’s foreign policy is also worrying, especially the threats against Greek sovereignty and its attitude toward Cyprus. In the context of the Russian offensive against Ukraine, the obstacles to the NATO membership of Sweden and Finland must be removed and the possibility of exporting Ukrainian grain by sea must be ensured.

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