Saturday 17 March 2018

Greece vote on crucial reforms passes ahead of new bailout talks

Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras delivers a speech during an emergency parliament session in Athens (AP)
Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras delivers a speech during an emergency parliament session in Athens (AP)
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras rubs his eyes as the Greek parliament debates the new legislation into the early hours of the morning
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras arrives at his office in Athens just after flying in from Brussels
A protester attracts a swarm of photographers as she burns a Syriza flag outside the Greek parliament in Athens
President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras contained a rebellion in his left-wing Syriza party to win parliamentary approval for a second package of reforms required to start talks on a financial rescue deal.

A first set of reforms that focused largely on tax hikes and budget discipline triggered a rebellion in Syriza last week and passed only thanks to votes from pro-EU opposition parties.

The bill that lawmakers voted early this morning covered rules for dealing with failed banks and speeding up the justice system - two more conditions set by the euro zone and IMF to open negotiations on an 86 billion euro rescue loan.

The legislation easily passed with the backing of 230 votes in the 300-seat chamber, once again due to opposition support.

But 36 Syriza deputies - or almost a quarter of the party's 149 lawmakers - voted against the overall bill or abstained, though significantly for Tsipras that was a smaller rebellion than the 39 deputies who defied him in last week's vote.

"We made tough choices, and I personally made difficult, responsible choices. Today we must all redefine the possibilities ahead of us given the new circumstances," Tsipras said in an appeal to parliament to back the reforms.

"We chose a difficult compromise to avert the most extreme plans by the most extreme circles in Europe."

Tsipras has publicly said he disagrees with measures demanded by Greece's euro zone peers and the IMF for talks to proceed on a third bailout to save the country from bankruptcy.

But after he made a U-turn by accepting a deal at the 11th hour to keep his country in the euro, he told party hardliners to face reality and back the package.

Even so, hardline Left Platform lawmakers from the Syriza party, who opposed last week's bill, rejected this week's law as well and complained about the length of the bill, which covered more than 900 pages.

Together with his coalition partners from the right-wing nationalist Independent Greeks, Tsipras has 162 seats in the 300-seat parliament.

Last week's rebellion cut his support to just 123 votes and government officials have said elections are likely in September or October once the package is agreed.

"We might go to elections, when this is needed," government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili earlier told local radio, adding that it would not be helpful now as the country prepares to negotiate the new bailout deal. "We are trying to bring the situation back to some sort of normality," she said.

European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici told reporters in Brussels he was confident the parliament would adopt the bill. Creditor institutions were seeking to conclude talks with Greece on a third bailout in the second half of August, he said.

The government has said it hopes negotiations on the bailout deal can start this week and be wrapped up by August 20.

In the first signs of a return to normal, Greek banks reopened on Monday and Athens paid debts due to the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund. The ECB increased its emergency funding by 900 million euros, the same amount it provided last week.


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