Comrades and friends of many years and many battles, I am happy and relieved to be back at my political home. To be among comrades with whom we have been travelling the difficult but exciting journey of hope and change.
From our Founding Congress in Rome, in May 2004, to the 5th Congress, these three days in Berlin.In the city which carries the indelible mark of the struggles of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht.
The heart of the Left in Europe is beating in this city – it is beating in this room. Because this Congress will reinforce the political dynamic of the European Left.
And let me take a moment to appreciate the efforts that Pierre Laurent has made over the last six years as President of our party. We are grateful to him. With Pierre we share the view that the Left is a political force which stands strong and fights. It is not a political force that withdraws.
We share the view that, in difficult times, and particularly when the Left is entrusted with the mandate of the people, it has no other choice – no matter how difficult it might be – but to honor that mandate. Not to escape from the burden of its own political responsibility.
It is not a choice for the Left to abandon the people in the hands of conservative forces. It is not a choice for the Left to become a fugitive of History.
And that exactly was our decision in the summer of 2015. And the Greek people, in the election that followed in September, vindicated that decision, by renewing their trust and mandate to us.
Dear Comrades, I would also like to personally thank all of you for honoring me with your confidence to be the candidate of the European Left for the Presidency of the European Commission, three years ago.
When we all agreed to take the initiative and open up to citizens who had never before even considered to vote for the Left. When we agreed to build new social alliances and approach other progressive political forces.
That was a success, upon which, we have been building – and have an obligation to continue building. Because we need to be in permanent dialogue and exhaust all forms of cooperation with anti-neoliberal progressive political forces.
We need to cooperate and block the threat and rise of the extreme and populist right.
A necessary first step in that direction would be the establishment of a permanent annual forum of all progressive forces in Europe. A forum which could explore possible policy areas of convergence and forms of political coordination.
Comrades and Friends, Europe is not only at a critical crossroads, as we were saying until some time ago. But is now actually about to cross the Rubicon. The dark forces of the past are claiming the present.
And they do so on the fertile political soil of the failure of the neoliberal political establishment of Europe to effectively manage the economic, refugee and security crises.
The threatening rise of populist nationalism is the political outcome of the policy of open borders to austerity and closed borders to refugees and asylum seekers.
Because, the absence of solidarity, the retreat to a narrow nation-state logic, with the «not-in-my-own-backyard» mentality, bred euroscepticism and nationalism.
Reversion to absurd stereotypes against each other – citizens of Europe against citizens of Europe, and particularly of Europe’s South – bred division and populism.
This is why for us neoliberalism has been the political springboard for the nationalist right. And this is why the right is not an alternative to the extreme right.
And the time has come for decisive action. It is us, the European Left, who need to take the political initiative for a progressive alternative to nationalism and the extreme right.
To build broad political and social alliances in order to provide a credible anti-establishment alternative to our citizens and thus block the extreme right across Europe.
For that reason, European social democracy needs to measure up to its own historical responsibility. To put an end to the neoliberal consensus.
We need the participation of all the democratic and progressive forces. We need popular awakening and action to put an end to the Europe of mass unemployment, explosion of poverty and inequalities, social dumping and low public investment.
The democratic, social and ecological re-foundation of Europe is not the exclusive right of any political force. It requires the collective endeavor of all progressive forces.
At this critical moment for Europe, Greece is fighting to end austerity and exit from the neoliberal Memoranda of social injustice and deprivation. We have ended recession, our economy has already made a decisive turn to recovery and growth during this year.
But growth itself is not enough. The crucial question is: Growth for whom? And we have already answered: we need to establish those institutions that will secure that a fair share of the produced wealth will be distributed to social majority.
And this is exactly why it is crucial to fight for the reestablishment of collective bargaining in accordance with the European acquis.
And our creditors – especially the IMF – needs to understand that the state of exception in the Greek labor market, cannot be maintained anymore. This is the main reason why it is important, especially now that the recession is over, for a left government to stay strong.
Our creditors need, thus, to keep in mind that the Greek people have made enough sacrifices and now it is time for them to fulfill their commitments.
In that context, as a government of the Left, we made the political choice to compensate for their sacrifices the low pensioners who, all those years, have been thrown to the threshold of poverty.We have supported children in low-income areas with school lunches. And we have frozen the increase of VAT in the islands that carry, daily, the migration burden of Europe.
We have legislated these initiatives, without jeopardizing our European commitments. And that, because it will be financed from the overshooting of public revenues this year.
We are determined to defend the rights of the Greek people – and in particular, of the poor, the low-income and the unemployed.
For that reason, we will never surrender our people, to the «yes-men» of those who want Greece in the straightjacket of austerity for many years ahead.
We delivered on our obligations, now our creditors need to do their part! And their part consists not only of their commitment to implement short-term measures for the debt, but at the same time to open the discussion for decreasing primary surplus targets in the medium term.
Greece will achieve it’s goals according to the program, but we will not accept the logic of an eternal austerity that destroys Greek society. A logic that weakens a European partner that is THE pillar of peace and stability in a region of increasing tension and conflict.
A partner that is at the front-line of Europe in managing the great migration pressures we all face, on the basis of international law. A crucial strategic partner that is struggling every day to keep the balance in EU-Turkish relations.
While at the same time, a partner who is supporting efforts for a just and viable solution to the Cyprus issue, on the basis of UN Security Council resolutions. A solution that will at last allow ALL the people of Cyprus to live together without foreign troops, without the colonial systems of guarantees and most importantly, without fear.
Comrades and Friends, I am honored to be among you and share my thoughts with you. I feel confident that this Congress will be a turning point for the European Left. Because it will elect the new ruling bodies and will broaden the political base of our European party.
And because of the proposals to upgrade its political role. And I am very happy to express my full support to Gregor Gysi for the leadership of our Party. A very important figure of the European Left who I am sure will bring a new dynamic to our common project.
Finally, I want, once again, to express our appreciation for your solidarity and political support to the struggle of the Greek people, which has been continuous and decisive.
Thank you all for your support. And keep fighting. When the wheel of History turns back, it is up to the Left to move Europe forward. Thank you.