Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sparred with European People’s Party (EPP) MEP Esteban Gonzalez Pons in the European Parliament, where the PM delivered a speech on the future of Europe.

Pons told Tsipras that he has changed very much since 2015, when Greece was on the edge of the cliff and everyone else had turned their backs. He praised both the current government and the previous government of Antonis Samaras for the progress that has been made.

Pons said the Greek people should be applauded for choosing to remain in Europe, and that this should not be forgotten.

Remarking on a reference of Tsipras to technocrats, Pons said that all of Europe saved Greece. “Europe is values and principles and solidarity, and not stoning one another. At the beginning of your term in office we lost valuable time and 100bn euros were lost due to [former finance minister Yanis] Varoufakis. I see you have changes and are taking positive steps, but more steps are needed,” Pons said, addressing the Greek PM.

Pons expressed concern about the brain drain due to the emigration of 500,000 Greeks.

Pons stressed that, “We are concerned that there may be a return to populism in the next elections. It is in your hand. In 2015, you made a mistake. Populism is neither right-wing nor left wing.”

Tsipras’ reply

Tsipras immediately picked up the gauntlet. He stressed that previous Greek governments and European institutions had made grave errors and that this should be admitted. The PM said everyone should ask themselves why Greece needed three bailout programmes.

Tsipras said that Greece reached a difficult agreement in 2015, which prioritised reforms, rather than cutbacks.

“That is the truth, whether you like it or not,” Tsipras underlined.

As for whether there is nepotism in the client state in Greece, as Pons asserted, Tsipras said that it is the right-wing [in Greece] which assigns roles based family based on family ties, and not the SYRIZA government.

Tsipras also attacked New Democracy for its stance on national issues [a reference to ND’s rejection of the Greece-FYROM accord], which he said was based on an effort to garner electoral gains.

Tsipras said that allegations that SYRIZA cost Greece 100-bn euros in its first six months in power are “targeted inaccuracies”.