Thursday 29 September 2016

Greek MPs back bailout reform plan

Published 11/07/2015 | 06:19

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras reacts during a voting session at the Parliament in Athens, Greece. Photo: Reuters/Christian Hartmann
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras reacts during a voting session at the Parliament in Athens, Greece. Photo: Reuters/Christian Hartmann

Greece's parliament has backed a reform plan containing austerity measures to win a third bailout, but with the government suffering significant losses from dissenting MPs.

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The motion, which sought to authorise the government to use the proposal as a basis for negotiation with international creditors during the weekend, passed with 251 votes in favour, 32 against and eight voting 'present' - a form of abstention - in the 300-member parliament.

Those who voted 'present' or were absent, as well as two of those who voted against, were members of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' left-wing Syriza party - raising questions about the stability of his government.

The dissenters included two ministers - Panagiotis Lafazanis who holds the energy portfolio and Dimitris Stratoulis who holds the social security portfolio - and prominent party member and parliament speaker Zoe Konstantopoulou.

"I support the government but I don't support an austerity program of neoliberal deregulation and privatizations which ... would prolong the vicious circle of recession, poverty and misery," Mr Lafazanis said in a statement released to the press explaining his "radical and categorical" objection to the proposal.

Former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who resigned this week, was absent for family reasons, saying on Twitter he was spending the weekend with his daughter who was visiting from Australia.

Although he sent a letter saying he would have voted in favour had he been present, it could not be counted among the yes votes under parliamentary rules.

All opposition parties except the Nazi-inspired Golden Dawn and the Communist Party voted in favour.

Read More: Climbdown by Syriza as it agrees austerity terms rejected in vote  

The proposed measures, including tax hikes and cuts in pension spending, are certain to inflict more pain on a Greek public who just days ago voted overwhelmingly against a similar plan.

But the new proposal, if approved by Greece's international creditors, will provide longer-term financial support for a nation that has endured six years of recession.

Without a deal, Greece faces the immediate prospect of crashing out of Europe's joint currency, the euro. It would be the first nation to do so.

If the proposal is approved, Greece would get a three-year loan package worth nearly 53.5 billion euro (£38.5 billion) as well as some form of debt relief.

That is far more than the 7.2 billion euro (£5.1 billion) left over from Greece's previous bailout that had been at stake in the country's five-month negotiations until last month.

Speaking earlier in the debate that began just before midnight, Mr Tsipras acknowledged the reforms his government has proposed were harsh and include measures far from his party's election pledges, but insisted they were Greece's best chance to emerge from its financial crisis.

Mr Tsipras said his government had made mistakes during his six-month tenure but said he had negotiated as hard as he could.

"There is no doubt that for six months now we've been in a war," he said, adding that his government had fought "difficult battles" and had lost some of them.

"Now I have the feeling we've reached the boundary line. From here on there is a minefield, and I don't have the right to dismiss this or hide it from the Greek people," he said.

But he insisted the latest proposal contains measures that would help the economy and, if approved by Greece's creditors, would unlock sufficient financing for the country to emerge from its protracted crisis and see its massive debt tackled.

Defence minister Panos Kammenos, who heads the government's junior coalition member Independent Greeks, said he was advocating a vote in favour of the proposal even though it goes against his party's principles. The party holds 13 seats in the 300-member parliament.

"I want to state clearly, I am not afraid of Grexit," he said, referring to the possibility of Greece leaving the euro. "I am afraid of one thing: national division and civil war."

He said he feared failure to get a deal with creditors would eventually lead to civil strife.

Greece's latest proposal was sent to rescue creditors who were to meet this weekend to decide whether to approve it. Eurozone finance ministers meet this afternoon, followed by a summit of the 28-nation European Union set for tomorrow.

The country has relied on bailout funding since losing access to financing from bond markets in 2010.

The new measures overturn many of the election promises of Mr Tsipras' left-wing Syriza party, which had vowed to overturn bailout austerity, and come less than a week after 61% of voters opposed similar reforms, proposed by creditors, in last Sunday's referendum.

The coalition government has 162 and pledged backing from a large section of opposition lawmakers.

Greece's major creditors - the International Monetary Fund (IMF) the European Central Bank (ECB) and other eurozone nations - were already fine-combing through the proposals before sending them to the other 18 eurozone finance ministers today.

French president Francois Hollande described the measures as "serious and credible", though Germany refused to be drawn on their merits. France's Socialist government has been among Greece's few allies in the eurozone during the past months of tough negotiations, with Germany taking a far harder line.

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who chairs the meetings of the eurozone finance ministers known as the eurogroup, said the proposals were "extensive" but would not say whether he considered them sufficient.

Meanwhile, banks remained closed since the start of last week and cash withdrawals were restricted to 60 euros (£43) per day.

Although credit and debit cards work within the country, many businesses refuse to accept them, insisting on cash-only payments.

All money transfers abroad, including bill payments, were banned without special permission.

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