Bailout gets rough welcome in Greece
Greece’s left-wing government launched a frantic 24-hour effort late Tuesday to push more austerity measures through parliament and meet demands from European creditors as it faced down mounting anger at home.
The belt-tightening measures, which include higher sales tax rates on everything from condoms to race horses, were agreed upon with eurozone leaders to prevent the Greek economy from collapsing, and as part of planned third bailout worth 85 billion euros ($93 billion).
It means recession-hit Greeks will have to pay more for most goods and services by the end of the week.
Unions and trade associations representing civil servants, municipal workers, pharmacy owners and others called or extended strikes to coincide with Wednesday’s vote in parliament. Hard-liners in Prime Minister Tsipras’ own Syriza party were in open revolt.
Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis said lead eurozone lender Germany and its allies had acted like “financial assassins” by forcing the deal on Athens, and urged Tsipras to reject it.
“The deal is unacceptable,” Lafazanis said in a statement. “It may pass through parliament ... but the people will never accept it and will be united in their fight against it.”
Pro-European opposition parties have pledged support for the bailout bills in parliament, but Tsipras could effectively lose his majority in parliament, weakening his ability to push through measures that he had himself vehemently opposed until a few weeks ago.
Tsipras’ coalition partner, Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, also bitterly denounced the new deal.
“There was a coup. A coup in the heart of Europe,” said Kammenos, who heads the right-wing Independent Greeks party.
“They want the government to fall and replace it with one not elected by Greek people.”
The government holds 162 seats in Greece’s 300-member Parliament, and more than 30 of Syriza’s own lawmakers have publicly voiced objections.
Athens was forced to accept harsh terms to remain in the euro after defaulting on its debts to the International Monetary Fund and closing banks to prevent a deposit run. On Monday, it must repay 4.2 billion euros ($4.6 billion) to the European Central Bank. It is also in arrears on 2 billion euros to the International Monetary Fund.
It will take an estimated four weeks for Greece to access the new bailout loans, leaving EU finance ministers scrambling to find ways to get Athens some of the money sooner.
The monthslong standoff be- tween Greece and its creditors has taken a heavy toll on an economy that started the year with a 2.9 per cent growth forecast.
A national small business association said Tuesday that the new austerity measures were likely to cause the economy to shrink for a seventh year, with a 3.5 per cent drop in output. Despite the bleak forecasts, some Greeks appeared to take the latest turmoil in stride, saying the measures Greece will have to pass are harsh but that the alternative would have been worse.
“We aren’t in a good position within the European Union under the current measures and under this present situation,” said Kostas Plafoutzis, an Athens merchant.
Demonstrators gather near the Greek Parliament during a rally against the government's agreement with its creditors in Athens Tuesday.