Greek minister praises President Higgins’s austerity stance

Minister speaks ahead of the President’s three-day state visit to Athens

In the past, President Higgins urged the EU to drop its “hegemonic” economic model or risk social upheaval. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons / The Irish Times

In the past, President Higgins urged the EU to drop its “hegemonic” economic model or risk social upheaval. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons / The Irish Times

 

President Michael D Higgins earned the “gratitude” of the Greek people when he expressed solidarity with their country during its “disastrous” experience under austerity, a Greek government minister has said.

Speaking ahead of the President’s three-day state visit to Athens later this week, George Katrougalos, minister with responsibility for European affairs, also commended Mr Higgins’ dedication to the European social model, which the left-wing Syriza politician believes is “very much in danger these days”.

“We not only hold him in high respect and esteem, but also have a lot of gratitude for him because he has shown solidarity towards Greece during our hard times,” said Mr Katrougalos.

The left-wing Syriza politician added that Mr Higgins, “by speaking out against austerity, not only defended the interests of the Greek people but also the interests of the whole of Europe”.

In the past, Mr Higgins urged the EU to drop its “hegemonic” economic model or risk social upheaval and a loss of popular legitimacy.

In July 2015, following the Greek bailout referendum and subsequent U-turn by the government, he told his visiting German counterpart that events in Greece had been “deeply distressing for the Greek people, for all of us who wish to see greater social, political and economic harmony among the nations of Europe”.

During his visit, which begins on Thursday, the President and his wife Sabina will visit a refugee camp near the Greek capital. They will also meet the president of Greece, Prokopis Pavlopoulos.

Mr Higgins is also scheduled to hold talks with the country’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, as well as with the leader of the main opposition New Democracy party, Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Mr Pavlopoulos will host a state dinner in honour of Mr and Mrs Higgins.

On Friday, the President will address a breakfast meeting of Irish and Greek business leaders and receive an honorary doctorate at the University of Athens, where he will deliver a speech on the “ancient and enduring relationship between Ireland and Greece and their shared future”.

He will also visit the Acropolis Museum, which will be followed by a tour of the Parthenon, before attending a special performance by Irish and Greek artists at a concert hall in the city.

Underlining that Athens is on track to exit its current bailout programme in August, Mr Katrougalos said Greece and Ireland have both learned they “cannot leave behind the European social model and the values of solidarity, the protection of social rights and basic social services.

“Europe does not have a future without a soul and its soul is its social model.”