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Europe

Economy takes centre stage at European Commission debate

© AFP

Video by Clovis CASALI

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-05-16

The five leading candidates running to head the European Commission met in Brussels on Thursday for a televised debate, during which they focused largely on the economy and the impact of austerity measures across Europe.

In the often heated debate, Greek radical leftist leader Alexis Tsipras wasted no time describing his country’s EU-led bailout as a failure, despite Athens’ recent return to bond markets.

“What happened in Greece is not a success story but a social tragedy that shouldn’t be repeated anywhere in Europe,” Tsipras said.

Thursday’s debate was one of several planned before a new European Commission president is appointed following EU Parliament elections on May 22-25.

The other candidates in the race include centre-right Luxembourg politician Jean-Claude Juncker, 61-year old Belgian liberal Guy Verhofstadt, 32-year old Green politician Ska Keller from Germany and German Socialist Martin Schulz, 58.

Tsipras, 39, reiterated demands for Europe-wide debt reduction and called for an end to bailout-imposed austerity policies across Europe to boost economic growth.

“If we don’t finish with austerity, we’ll never solve the problem of unemployment,” he said.

Juncker, 59, who led Greek rescue talks as head of eurozone finance ministers four years ago, dismissed Tsipras’ criticism. “I did what I could to make Greece stay in the euro. I will never accept the charge that we lacked in solidarity,” he said.

Meanwhile, Verhofstadt mocked Tsipras's suggestion that banks and EU banking policies were to blame for southern Europe's economic woes.

"In Greece, in Italy, it wasn't a matter of banking, but bad policies on the part of your political parties," Verhofstadt told Tsipras, defending the need for fiscal discipline in the EU as it struggles to move out of recession.

"You need fiscal discipline, otherwise you cannot have growth... and that means making no new debt," Verhofstadt said, adding that the best way forward was to make the most of the EU's common market by removing economic barriers within the 28-member bloc.

Keller said that more austerity in the EU would "worsen the situation", but called on member states to do more to invest in "sustainable jobs" in renewable energy.

Schulz, the outgoing president of the European Parliament, agreed the EU had made a mistake in "unilaterally cutting" spending, but pointed to the fight against tax fraud and tax evasion as the best way of providing relief to state coffers.

The debates are the first of their kind to bring together all five parties vying for the European Commission presidency, as the EU seeks to demonstrate its relevance to increasingly hostile voters.

In a break from earlier formats, three of the candidates spoke English, while Juncker chose French and Tsipras used Greek. The event, broadcast from the European Parliament building in Brussels by 50 TV stations and a variety of radio stations and websites across Europe, was moderated in English by an Italian journalist.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-05-16

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