French President Francois Hollande, left, and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras participate in a meeting at an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels on Monday. (AP)
ATHENS: Greece’s government on Tuesday defended the billions worth of “harsh” new budget savings it has offered in talks with creditors, as some of the governing party’s own lawmakers spoke out against them.
Greece has proposed measures worth 8 billion euros ($9 billion), including increases to company and consumer taxes, to persuade the country’s bailout creditors to release new loans it needs to avoid defaulting on its debts next week.
A decision is expected this week: Euro zone finance ministers are to meet Wednesday evening, followed by a European Union summit Thursday and Friday. Greece needs a decision before June 30, when its current bailout expires and it also faces a 1.6 billion-euro ($1.8 billion) loan repayment to the International Monetary Fund.
The government is also under pressure from other left wing parties and trade unions, who say its proposals will place further burdens on austerity-weary Greeks. Late Tuesday, 7,000 members of a Communist Party-affiliated trade union and 3,000 pensioners held a peaceful protest march through Athens, demanding that the government withdraws its proposals and restore pensions to pre-crisis levels.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ radical left Syriza party won in January on a promise to repeal the harsh budget cuts and tax increases that previous governments had imposed since 2010 in return for bailout loans.
Tsipras says such measures have been focusing too closely on healing public finances while worsening the economic plight of Greeks.
But with creditors withholding 7.2 billion euros ($8 billion) worth of rescue loans and Greece’s state coffers running dry, Tsipras has been forced to backtrack on many pledges. A debt default by Greece could result in much greater economic pain for the country — a potential run on the banks and even an exit from the 19-nation euro currency union.
On Tuesday, Tsipras’ government found it had some explaining to do to its own party and backers.
“There is full comprehension that there are measures in the proposal that are harsh, and they are measures that under different circumstances, if it was up to us, there was no way we would have taken,” government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis told the private Greek television station Antenna.
Sakellaridis noted the proposed measures seek to increase taxes on those with higher incomes rather than on low-income families, salaried employees and pensioners.
But some party members were not swayed.
The proposals “cannot be supported, cannot be voted for,” Syriza party lawmaker Eleni Sotiriou was quoted as telling the weekly Dromos tis Aristeras. “The responsibility for the political developments regarding the submission of such measures will lie with those who made these choices.”
Another lawmaker, Dimitris Kodelas, echoed the sentiment.
“Such an agreement cannot be voted on,” he told To Vima radio. “The deal toward which we are moving is a deal which, by common admission, has nothing to do with our program.”