Saturday 23 September 2017

Greek PM Tsipras claims 'last-minute' bailout victory

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras smiles after agreeing a last-minute conditional financial rescue deal with Europe (REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis)
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras smiles after agreeing a last-minute conditional financial rescue deal with Europe (REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis)

George Georgiopoulos

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras declared victory yesterday after agreeing a last-minute conditional financial rescue deal with Europe, despite making big concessions to avert financial collapse within days.

With his left-wing leadership pilloried by German conservatives, Tsipras insisted defiantly that Friday night’s agreement cancelled austerity commitments and dispensed with the “troika” — European and IMF inspectors loathed by many Greeks.

“Yesterday, we took a decisive step, leaving austerity, the bailouts and the troika behind,” he said, in a televised statement to the Greek nation. “We won a battle, not the war. The difficulties, the real difficulties ... are ahead of us.”

After often ill-tempered negotiations in Brussels, Greece secured a four-month extension to eurozone funding, which will avert bankruptcy and a euro exit, provided it comes up with promises of economic reforms by tomorrow.

Had no deal been reached, some officials had feared panic when Greek banks reopened on Tuesday after a long holiday weekend. But Athens said agreement at the meeting of eurozone finance ministers should calm Greek savers, who thought capital controls might be imposed as a prelude to leaving the euro.

A source at the European Central Bank (ECB) also ruled out restrictions on savers’ rights to withdraw their deposits, aiming to dismiss epectations that the Greek banking system might have gone, in Michael Noonan’s words, “belly up”.

Tsipras and his Syriza party won power last month on promises to end Greece’s EU/IMF bailout programme and cooperation with the “troika” — the European Commission, ECB and IMF officials who have monitored Greece’s compliance with its austerity and reform commitments.

However, Athens has been forced to accept a conditional extension of the bailout at the insistence of Eurogroup members led by Germany.

It must also still deal with the troika, albeit renamed in the Brussels agreement as “the three institutions”.

Irish Finance Minister Michael Mr Noonan said: “Their political problem is that this a reversal of their election position. There is absolutely nothing on the table that could be considered a concession.

“They’re now compromising and compromising quite significantly,” he told RTE, but made it clear Athens had little choice. “The biggest threat to Greece was that their banking system would go belly up next Wednesday.”

Mr Tsipras has won wide support at home for what Greeks see as their leaders finally getting tough, instead of going to Brussels cap in hand and taking orders from Berlin.

But he was also under intense pressure at home, with emergency funding controlled by the ECB for the banks due to hit a ceiling in mid-week.

Sunday Independent

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