Greece aus­ter­ity bill sub­mit­ted to par­lia­ment

The Pak Banker - - Front Page -

ATHENS:

Greece’s con­ser­va­tive-led coali­tion de­tailed a new four-year pack­age of aus­ter­ity mea­sures on Wed­nes­day, fac­ing down es­ca­lat­ing protests by unions and dis­sent from its left-wing gov­ern­ment part­ners.

The bill, to be voted in par­lia­ment late Wed­nes­day, will im­pose fur­ther wage and ben­e­fit cuts on Greeks who are head­ing into a sixth year of re­ces­sion and are al­ready strug­gling with 25 per cent un­em­ploy­ment.

Unions had al­ready called a 48hour gen­eral strike start­ing Wed­nes­day in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the mea­sures. Po­lice late Mon­day cor­doned off streets around main gov­ern­ment build­ings in prepa­ra­tion for po­ten­tially vi­o­lent protests. The dras­tic spend­ing cuts and tax hikes de­manded by the coun­try’s bailout cred­i­tors aim to save some € 13.5 bil­lion ( Dh63.5 bil­lion) in 2013- 14, but aus­ter­ity will be ex­tended through 2016.

Other mea­sures in­clude a twoyear in­crease in the re­tire­ment age to 67, a new round of tax in­creases and mak­ing it eas­ier to fire and trans­fer civil ser­vants.

If law­mak­ers re­ject the mea­sures, Greece could lose vi­tal res­cue loans that have kept it afloat since May 2010 — rais­ing the threat of bank­ruptcy and a euro exit.

The next loan in­stall­ment of € 31.5 bil­lion out of a to­tal of € 240 bil­lion is al­ready over­due and with­out it, con­ser­va­tive Prime Min­is­ter An­to­nis Sa­ma­ras has said Greece will run out of eu­ros on Novem­ber 16.

Af­ter nearly three years of suc­ces­sive in­come cuts and tax hikes, Greeks have lit­tle stomach for more.

On Thurs­day, doc­tors launched a three- day strike that will leave state hos­pi­tals func­tion­ing on emer­gency staff, while news broad­cast­ing was can­celled by a 24- hour jour­nal­ists’ strike.

Dur­ing a gen­eral strike on Tues­day and Wed­nes­day, schools, tax of­fices and pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion will shut down, and there will be no train or ferry ser­vices across the coun­try. Flights will be dis­rupted for three hours on Tues­day.

Since form­ing his gov­ern­ment af­ter June elec­tions, Sa­ma­ras has fought on two fronts: To per­suade debt in­spec­tors from the Euro­pean Union, In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund and Euro­pean Cen­tral Bank to ap­prove the coun­try’s €31.5 bil­lion loan in­stall­ment, and to talk his two cen­tre- left coali­tion part­ners into back­ing the nec­es­sary spend­ing cuts and labour re­forms.

Per­suad­ing politi­cians at home has proved the hard­est task. The main So­cial­ist part­ner in the coali­tion has agreed to the pack­age, but faces in­creas­ing dis­sent from its own law­mak­ers.

And the smaller Demo­cratic Left party says it will not sup­port the bill be­cause of new labour re­forms. “Our po­si­tion re­mains un­changed,” Demo­cratic Left leader Fo­tis Kou­velis said late Tues­day. “From the out­set, we said we would not sup­port these labour re­forms.” The coali­tion gov­ern­ment has the sup­port of 175 law­mak­ers in the 300-mem­ber par­lia­ment — 127 from con­ser­va­tive New Democ­racy, 32 from So­cial­ists and 16 from the Demo­cratic Left. The aus­ter­ity pack­age only needs a sim­ple ma­jor­ity to pass and the Demo­cratic Left’s op­po­si­tion to the bill does not pose a di­rect threat to its pas­sage. But ap­proval with fewer than 151 votes would re­in­force op­po­si­tion politi­cians’ ar­gu­ment that Sa­ma­ras lacks le­git­i­macy.

Last week, Sa­ma­ras warned con­ser­va­tive law­mak­ers about the risks if the mea­sures are re­jected.

While ac­knowl­edg­ing Greeks had al­ready lost some 35 per cent of their in­come in the past two years, he added: “We would lose at least twice that amount within a few weeks — about 80 per cent of our stan­dard of liv­ing” if the coun­try was forced out of the euro. Op­po­si­tion leader Alexis Tsipras is de­mand­ing elec­tions — al­though the coun­try has al­ready had two pop­u­lar votes and four gov­ern­ments in the past year.

His Rad­i­cal Left Coali­tion party is lead­ing opin­ion polls, which have also seen a rapid rise in pop­u­lar­ity for the mil­i­tant far- right Golden Dawn party, which has been linked to vi­o­lent at­tacks on im­mi­grants. On Sun­day night, Par­lia­ment will also vote on the 2013 state bud­get, which pro­vides for a sixth year of re­ces­sion in which the na­tional debt will rise to 189.1 per cent of the coun­try’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct of €194 bil­lion. All three coali­tion part­ners are expected to back the bud­get.

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