Greece adopts anti-poverty law in face of EU opposition

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras addresses lawmakers during a parliamentary session in Athens March 18, 2015. (Reuters / Alkis Konstantinidis)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras addresses lawmakers during a parliamentary session in Athens March 18, 2015. (Reuters / Alkis Konstantinidis)

The Greek parliament approved a “humanitarian crisis” bill Wednesday, the first of a raft of social measures proposed by new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, despite stiff opposition from the European Commission, who called the law a “unilateral” action.

The bill, which adopted housing allowances and emergency food aid
for the poorest Greeks, was passed with support from conservative
New Democracy lawmakers, as the government snubbed efforts by the
European Commission to scupper it.

“If they’re doing it to frighten us, the answer is: we will
not be frightened. The Greek government is determined to stick to
the Feb. 20 agreement. However, we demand the same from our
partners. Let them stop unilateral actions, respecting the
agreement they signed,”
Tsipras told parliament.

“What else can one say to those who have the audacity to say
that dealing with a humanitarian crisis is a unilateral
he added.

READ MORE: European Central Bank ‘asphyxiating’
Greece – Varoufakis

The bill also included a 100-installment payment scheme for
taxpayers to settle their debts with the state, which was
fingered by the commission as “fragmentary” action for
solving Athens’ debt problems.

Declan Costello, a representative of the European Commission on
the technical team monitoring Greece, had spoken out against the
bill, telling Athens that making it law would be a
“unilateral move.”

In a correspondence between Costello and the Greek authorities,
Costello argues that the bill is not compatible with the
Eurogroup’s February 20 agreement with Athens, according to Paul
Mason, a journalist who made the contents of the letter public

Costello wrote that new laws adopted by Greece on finance must be
included in the general context of reform promotion.

“We would strongly urge having the proper policy
consultations first, including consistency with reform efforts.
There are several issues to be discussed and we need to do them
as a coherent and comprehensive package. Doing otherwise would be
proceeding unilaterally and in a piecemeal manner that is
inconsistent with the commitments made, including to the
Eurogroup as stated in the February 20 communiqué,”
reportedly told the Greek government.

But Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said the latest
meeting with the Eurogroup included the bill. Although other
government officials confirmed the existence of the text from
Costello and said that certain points needed to be clarified.

Gabriel Sakellaridis, a government spokesman, said the move by
the European Commission amounted to a “veto” and was adding to
the “pressure” on Greece which has debts of €240

EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici denied there
had been a veto of the bill.

“We fully support the objective of helping the most
vulnerable and there is absolutely no question of a so-called
veto of the humanitarian crisis law,”
Moscovici told

The 20 February agreement between Greece and the Eurogroup saw a
compromise of sorts reached. Greece achieved an extension of its
current debt repayment program until the end of June.

READ MORE: ‘End of austerity’? Greece claims
bailout battle victory, warns hard time not over

For now a Greek exit from the euro was avoided, but the
difficulty of reaching a deal raises the possibility that
elections elsewhere in Europe in the coming months may see other
countries such as Spain try and change the direction of economic
reform in the eurozone.

In spite of the February 20 deal, Greece risks running out of
cash in a few weeks as the rift with its creditors widens. Athens
and its international lenders began talks last week to try and
agree details of reforms on the Greek side, but so far there has
been little progress.

READ MORE: And the ‘worst IMF client ever’ award goes to…

French Finance Minister Michael Sapin said that people must rein
back their language and do everything possible to stop Greece
exiting the euro.

“France will be do everything it can to avoid an accident and
I believe that what we will do will avoid it. But no one can be
categorical on this and this is why, on both sides, people must
control their language,”
he told lawmakers.

Leave a comment