Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Tuesday rang "warning bells" against what he called encroaching populism in the European Union, addressing a European Parliament plenary session in Strasbourg, where the once out-spoken anti-austerity and anti-bailout leftist politician called for a common front by "progressive parties" in next year's Europarliament elections.
Tsipras told a thinly attended session that next year’s election for MEPs “will be more than just another election; it will be a battle based on principles and values" between political forces in favor of the EU facing “extreme neo-liberalism and far-right populism ... In this struggle, all progressive, democratic and pro-Europe forces are obliged to stand side-by-side on the same side of history,” the Greek premier said.
Tsipras and members of his leftist-rightist coalition government - the junior partner is a small right-wing party (AN.EL) often criticized by opponents as overtly populist - repeatedly vilify Greece's center-right main opposition party's pro-business and pro-reform platform as "neo-liberal".
He added that the punishing economic crisis that has plagued several Eurozone members over the recent years - especially Greece - as well as the refugee/migrant crisis as leaving the EU "fundamentally weakened."
Tsipras' tenure in power in early 2015 coincided with a massive wave of Mideast war refugees and would-be migrants from various third countries - from Morocco to Bangladesh - landing on a handful of eastern Aegean islands from neighboring Turkey, often facilitated by smuggling networks operating from the neighboring country. Hundreds of thousands of third country nationals streamed from Turkey onto the Greek isles in a bid to reach other west and north European destinations, especially Germany.
In referring to standing resistance by certain central European countries, most notably Hungary, to receive registered refugees or to open internal borders to non-EU nationals without travel documents, Tsipras said disagreements over what he called migration policy had made it clear that some countries “do not believe" in the Union's “founding values”.
Turning his focus to the recently concluded (Aug. 20) third successive bailout for Greece, he said it marked a “new beginning” for the crisis-battered country.
In a sharp reaction to Tsipras' address, Esteban González Pons, the vice-president of the European People's Party (EPP) group in the Europarliament, warned that the "the extreme right is as dangerous like the extreme left, at least for democrats. "
González Pons echoed other European leaders in saying that Greece emerged from a serious economic crisis thanks to the efforts of Greek citizens and the EU's support.
The Union, the conservative Spanish politician added, has stressed to Tsipras that he has two options: "to continue on the path of reforms, which has restored Greece to a path of prosperity and welfare, or let populism and radicalism prevail again in his government."
"In 2015 he (Tsipras) was wrong, as time and the facts have shown, and I trust that this time he knows how to select the right option, because populism is neither right nor left; it's populism and always will be," he insisted, adding: "It was not a Europe of banks and corporations that lifted Greece out of the abyss, but a Europe of taxpayers, who get up every morning to go to work. It has been the savings of retirees, wage-earners and small entrepreneurs from all over Europe that have made it possible to rescue Greece," González Pons emphasized.