Greek MPs debate latest austerity package
Heated exchanges have taken place in the Greek parliament after deputies began a two-day debate on the country’s long-awaited and much dreaded third austerity package.
The spending reductions and tax increases amount to €13.5 billion, or 4.5 per cent of gross domestic product.
Opposition deputies yesterday decried the government’s decision to bundle radical changes in Greece’s labour laws into the 246-page Bill which will be voted upon as a single article in an open, roll-call vote at midnight tonight. Changes to the labour laws are a key demand by the EU-IMF-ECB troika.
The finance minister told deputies that the legislation had to be fast-tracked to ensure euro zone ministers vote to disburse Greece’s next bailout instalment of €31.5 billion at their meeting this Monday.
“In short, the immediate disbursement [of the tranche] is necessary to avoid an orderly default,” said Yannis Stounaras.
One MP from left-wing Syriza, the main opposition party, said the accelerated procedure reminded him of the “dark times of the junta that we thought were over”.
Apart from significant reductions in all government spending, the wide-ranging measures will mean the retirement age for Greeks increases by two years from 65 to 67, pension cuts of between 5 and 15 per cent and the salaries of public utility workers slashed by up to 40 per cent. It will also introduce a €25 fee for all hospital admissions from 2014.
Unhappy with the changes to labour law, the Democratic Left, the smallest party in the three-way ruling coalition, decided on Monday to vote “present” – akin to a blank vote but not an abstention – in tonight’s ballot but to endorse the budget when it comes before deputies on Sunday.
Analysts say the move will not affect the outcome of tonight’s vote but does not augur well for the government that also includes conservative New Democracy and socialist Pasok.
“The measures will be passed, but the real battle begins on Thursday because this government has lost its cohesion,” said George Tzogopoulos, an analyst at the Eliamep think tank, who added that public cynicism about politicians had reached new highs.
The country’s main unions started a 48-hour strike that resulted in the shutdown of all forms of public transport in Athens. One of those attending a protest march in Athens felt citizens had few options left: “These measures are the final nail in the coffin.”