The Prime Minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras, spoke to the European Parliament yesterday on the situation in his country. The Head of the liberal group in the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt apparently slept well last night as he rallied energetically against Tsipras. The mainstream media enjoyed his ‘roaring’ performance and published, starting with VRT (Belgium’s national television station), the 7-minute video where Verhofstadt fulminates against Tsipras. He became the hero of the day.
There are at least a few remarks we can make on how this story is being presented by these mainstream media.
Verhofstadt denounced in his speech the clientelism in Greek politics (by the current ruling party). A statement for which he was applauded by both conservative and liberal MEPs. Verhofstadt is right because political clientelism is a problem in Greece. I remarked on it myself last week in an opinion piece.
However, it is at least a little hypocritical that Verhofstadt, of all people, speaks of ‘clientelism and privileges’ as according to a research in 2014 by Transparency International, the majority of MEPs make money on the side by combining different posts. While these MEPs already earn around 12,000 euros per month, expenses included. One of the top earning MEPs is … Guy Verhofstadt. Only three other MEPs do better.
Verhofstadt has at least 11 mandates and so earns more than 200,000 euros extra annually. Speaking of privileges …
Verhofstadt claimed also that Greece has not made any reforms and has never made it clear which reforms it is willing to implement. Again applause from the European Parliament. The Flemish media and later on other European media had their news ready for their websites and social media. Verhofstadt ‘s speech was the news of the day.
The debate in Parliament was not done yet. After the reactions of the leaders of the coalition groups in the European Parliament Tsipras spoke again. But by now the mainstream media had already stopped watching because Verhofdstadt had already said everything.
Tsipras said that since they came into power five months ago, he and his government, have had little time to implement real policy changes because the troika has not allowed them to. Besides most of their energy was spent on the negotiations. The camera focused on Verhofstadt who responded approvingly to what Tsipras was saying.
Tsipras did not stop there and mentioned in less than two minutes various reforms that Greece has already made and will make. Honestly not really a difficult task for him because of all the European countries, Greece has implemented the most reforms. Reforms of which, apparently Verhofstadt and his applauding colleagues are not aware. While Tsipras enumerated the reforms Verhofstadt seemed less at ease.
It also became clear that besides their difference of ideas, Verhofstadt and Tsipras also differ in style. While Verhofstadt roared, Tsipras was serene and smiling.
The applause of about 20 seconds that followed Verhofstadt’s speech, was called a “thunderous applause” by the media. However, Tspiras got an applause that was twice as long upon his arrival at the European Parliament, and again after his speech that countered amongst others, Verhofstadt’s, Tsipras received twice as long applauses, but this did not seem worth mentioning for our mainstream media.
By the way, not only Verhofstadt got slammed. The leader of the European People’s Party, the German Manfred Weber looked flushed when Tsipras reminded him that the principle of solidarity should be important to the European Union. And that the greatest moment of solidarity in Europe, was in the year 1953. The year in which Europe granted Germany debt relief for half of its debts.
I thought it was important to share this version of the events with you, given the very small likelihood that you will see any of these images on TV tonight. What you will see is undoubtedly a repetition of the ‘news of the day.’ Bleri Lleshi is a Brussels based political philosopher and author of various books. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter