Greece’s Tsipras to sell austerity deal to reluctant party

Author: Associated Press
Published: Updated:

ATHENS, Greece (AP) – Left-wing Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sought his party’s backing for a harsh new austerity package Friday to keep his country in the euro – less than a week after urging Greeks to reject milder cuts in a referendum.

Government ministers signed off on the sweeping new measures – likely to extend the recession after six years of painful decline – that include pension cuts and tax hikes. In exchange, Greece wants a three-year financial support program worth nearly $60 billion and some form of debt relief.

The measures were sent to rescue creditors who will meet this weekend to decide whether to approve them. The proposed new bailout would be Greece’s third since it lost access to financing from bond markets in 2010.

In an unusual procedure, Tsipras is first seeking authorization from parliament to negotiate with the creditors based on the proposal in a vote Friday. He is essentially asking his Syriza party to sign off on the U-turn despite more than 60 percent of voters opposing more austerity in the July 5 referendum.

Tsipras was convening his party’s lawmakers for discussions Friday morning before the parliamentary debate.

The coalition government has 162 seats in the 300-member parliament and pledged backing on a deal from a large section of opposition lawmakers. But failure to deliver votes from his own government would likely topple his coalition.

The proposals are to be discussed by eurozone finance ministers on Saturday, ahead of a summit of the European Union’s 28 leaders Sunday.

Though German officials would not be drawn on the merits of the Greek proposal, French President Francois Hollande said they are “serious and credible.”

France’s Socialist government has been among the Greek government’s few allies in the eurozone during the past months of tough negotiations.

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the main who chairs eurozone finance ministers’ meetings, said the proposals were “extensive” but would not say whether he thought they were sufficient.

Later Friday, Dijsselbloem will hold a conference call with the leaders of other key creditors, the European Union’s executive Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas says they will likely send their assessment of the Greek proposal to the eurozone finance ministers later Friday.

In Greece, government officials were confident their concessions would be accepted by the creditors. Alternate Finance Minister Dimitris Mardas said he expected parliament to sign off on the proposal.

As the government inched closer to a deal to ensure Greece doesn’t crash out of Europe’s joint currency, some Greeks adopted a ‘wait and see’ approach.

“I don’t know. The chances are fifty-fifty” for a deal, said Athens resident Omiros Fotiadis. There were many things to take into account, he said. “One being if all the European countries will accept the agreement, as well as the institutions, and the other is whether the agreement … will be accepted internally.”

But some were furious at the deep spending cuts in the proposals.

“If this is Europe, then we don’t want this Europe,” said Aristidis Dimoupulos, a marketing professor in Athens. “If this is the eurozone, we don’t care if we go out or in. If in this life we’ll be slaves, it’s better to be dead.”

The negotiations have come amid capital controls in Greece, with banks shut since late last month and Greeks restricted to cash withdrawals of 60 euros ($67) per day. Although credit and debit cards work freely within the country, many businesses are refusing to accept them and insisting on cash-only payments. All money transfers abroad, including bill payments, require special permission from a finance ministry committee.

Mardas said the banks would be gradually restored to operation. They are currently to remain closed through Monday, at which time he said a new order would be issued expanding what transactions can be carried out.

Tsipras could face a tough battle to convince his party hardliners to back his proposal.

Before the proposals were finalized Thursday, a prominent dissenter, Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, urged the government not to sign a third bailout.

“The choices we have are tough … but the worst, the most humiliating and unbearable choice is an agreement that will surrender, loot and subjugate our people and this country,” he told a business conference.

Greece had voted ‘no’ in last weekend’s referendum, he said, “and that will not be turned into a humiliating ‘yes.'”

Protesters who had backed a “yes” vote returned to the streets Thursday, with several thousand gathering outside parliament.

More rallies, backing and opposing the government, are planned in central Athens on Friday.

Syriza had resisted a new loans-for-austerity deal, arguing the country is too weak to endure it, with a quarter of the labor force out of work and a growing number living in poverty.

Athens finally issued its proposals late Thursday, just before a midnight deadline set by eurozone lenders – forced to make more concessions after defaulting on repayments to the IMF and being forced to close its banks to prevent their collapse.

In return for the new package, the government said it would seek debt relief – a notion gaining ground internationally despite reluctance in Germany.

“The realistic proposal from Greece will have to be matched by an equally realistic proposal on debt sustainability from the creditors. Only then will we have a win-win situation,” European Council President Donald Tusk said.

On Thursday, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble also said the possibility of some kind of debt relief would be discussed over coming days.

But in a note of caution, he added: “The room for maneuver through debt re-profiling or restructuring is very small.”

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