“I am optimistic about the future of Greece,” visiting Irish President Michael Higgins said late on Wednesday. In a press conference in Athens during his three-day visit to Greece, Higgins said the Greek people must welcome the likelihood of exiting the adjustment programme in August while he was critical of some of the austerity measures imposed on Greece and stressed the need for more careful planning to anticipate the social impact of measures on a European level.
“Those of us who believe in the Union must speak about the peoples of Europe and in that instance I have no hesitation in saying I believe that some of the measures that were required of Greece in relation to the austerity programme were ones that were not thought through in relation to their consequences at level of the European sources of those programmes,” he said.
Higgins linked this to economic planning in general, stressing that fiscal and financial decisions that have a bearing on the social economy “have to be worked through in terms of their envisaged consequences” and that planners must have a clear idea of how people will be affected by them.
“I could make it very plain…there’s families, for example, relying on a very poor public service pension, they are sustaining themselves and their families and maybe other relatives as well. To suggest that this can be adjusted in the same way as an income at a very higher level is not just foolish, I think it is close to being immoral,” Higgins said.
Asked whether he was optimistic about Greece’s future, Higgins replied affirmatively:
“I am optimistic about the future of Greece, because of course the debate in Greek politics -whatever people may think of its tumultuous character at times – is a very sophisticated debate,” he said, noting that he had been meeting distinguished Greek politicians ever Melina Mercouri sat next to him in the council of culture ministers.
“I think, maybe, what countries like Ireland and Greece have to offer the EU is the power of good thinking and of mindwork, which is now ever more important,” he added.
Regarding his visit to Greece, the Irish president said that the focus was not only on “what is good for Athens” but also “what must be good for all of Greece and its wonderful spread out population.”
He said that the 11 Irish companies that had accompanied him on his visit will be having discussions with their counterparts on Thursday morning to discuss “opportunities of us doing things together,” and expressed hope that this may deepen.
“I see many, many future areas of cooperation,” Higgins concluded, while also referring to 80,000 Irish people that visited Greece last year and noting that Greek people are very welcome in Ireland.