On Tuesday 9 February, Georges Dassis, President of the European Economic and Social Committee, had an audience with Prokopis Pavlopoulos, President of the Hellenic Republic. Mr Pavlopoulos said that the European Economic and Social Committee played a special and historic role, noting that it had been "set up as a reminder of the social face of the European Union and was a fundamental pillar of the entire European edifice". He went on to express satisfaction that, once again, a Greek was at the helm of the EESC.
Mr Pavlopoulos referred to the profound divisions currently afflicting the welfare state, and not just in Greece, pointing out that austerity policy had created insurmountable obstacles and needed to be revised at the earliest possible moment. He urged the EESC president to make the most of his position vis-à-vis the European institutions – the Parliament, the Commission and the Council – and to take initiatives in staunch defence of the welfare state and workers' rights.
After thanking the Greek president, Mr Dassis observed that the Economic and Social Committee adopted its opinions on the basis of very significant majorities and emphasised that austerity was not the solution to the economic crisis. He referred specifically to the initiatives taken by the EESC in response to the economic crisis, amongst them its opinions on the financial transaction tax and the mutualisation of public debt in countries experiencing problems, including Greece.
Turning to the subject of refugees and migration, the EESC president said it was necessary to make a distinction between the two issues. He pointed out that, at the outset of the current refugee crisis, the EESC had possibly been the first institution to organise fact-finding missions, to twelve countries, and that it had repeatedly urged the European Commission to introduce a genuine European policy on migration.
In conclusion, he spoke of the need for Europe to keep its social face, stressing that "if the current model is dismantled, it will certainly signal the start of the break-up of the EU" and "if the Schengen Treaty is revoked, either partially or completely, this could be the first step towards dissolving the EU".
Mr Dassis, the only Greek at the head of an EU institution, was president of the EESC's Workers' Group before being appointed president of the EESC itself in October 2015. An active member of the trade union movement from the age of fifteen, he took refuge in Belgium during the military junta, working there as an activist and going on to become, amongst other things, a permanent member of the General Federation of Belgian Labour (FGTB). He also represented the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE) on the governing bodies of the European and international trade union movement and at the International Labour Organisation.