Greek parliament votes for tough new austerity measures

Mon, Feb 13, 2012, 00:00

GREEK MPs endorsed a new package of austerity measures by an overwhelming majority last night, in a vote that was accompanied by some of the worst rioting seen in the Greek capital since the country sought its first bailout in 2010.

Banks, shops and a cinema were among the 35 buildings set alight as rioters ran running battles with police in the city. The open roll-call vote, which prime minister Lucas Papademos’ coalition was never expected to lose, followed a 10-hour debate that saw tensions flare among parliament’s 300 MPs and violence erupt on the streets outside.

“If we don’t pass this law, the country will go bankrupt,” finance minister Evangelos Venizelos told deputies in a debate that saw a Communist Party MP throw the draft bill in anger in the direction of the minister. Speaking before the vote was taken, Mr Papademos said that what was at stake was Greece’s future as an integral part of the European Union core.

“It is the time for decisions, it is necessary to understand that the main cause of the crisis is that for many years the state systematically spent more than its revenue,” he said.Condemning the scenes in Athens, he said vandalism and destruction had “no place in a democracy and will not be tolerated”.

Greece’s EU-IMF lenders made the austerity and reform package a prerequisite for the payment of a a second bailout, worth €130 billion.

Approving the deal will help Greece stave off default in mid-March, when it faces a €14.5 billion bond repayment deadline.

While the outcome of the vote was never in doubt, each of the remaining two parties in Mr Papademos’ coalition faced a rebellion in the process.

A dozen Pasok MPs failed to support the austerity package, voting no or by abstaining, throwing down the gauntlet to the socialist leader, George Papandreou, who said on Saturday that he would expel any member who defied the party whip.

Similarly, 16 centre-right New Democracy MPs also declined to endorse the programme, despite party leader Antonis Samaras warning them that they will not be allowed run for the party in the next general election, expected in April.

The parliamentary debate was accompanied by a massive street demonstration in Athens city centre and in other cities.

More than 100,000 people of all ages turned out to voice their opposition to the additional austerity measures, which will slash pensions and reduce the minimum monthly wage of €750 by 22 per cent for all workers, or by 32 per cent for the under-25s.

“I studied six years for two degrees, and for what? €400 a month?” said one demonstrator, Angeliki Daritsi, 28.

She said that since her father lost his job six months ago, she and her extended family have been living off her grandmother’s monthly pension of €750, which will be reduced under the new measures.

“I have nothing to lose anymore. I am going to fight to the end for my future, my father and my kids,” Ms Daritsi continued.

Among the protesters were renowned composer Mikis Theodorakis, 86, and second World War resistance hero Manolis Glezos, 90. Both men had to seek refuge in the parliament building after police fired tear gas into the crowd.

Later, holding a surgical mask over his mouth, a visibly shaken Mr Glezos, who in 1940 tore a Swastika flag down from the Acropolis, said that “these annihilation measures will not pass”.

Euro zone finance ministers plan a meeting on Wednesday to approve the new bailout, under which Greece will receive €130 billion in loans. However, Mr Venizelos said the EU-IMF troika wants euro zone countries to contribute an additional €15 billion. The government signed up to the austerity plan last Thursday but the euro zone ministers wanted parliament to endorse it first and the government to find another €325 million in cost-savings.

They also want written commitments from the leaders of the main Greek parties to continue implementing the new reform package after a general election due in April.

The new bailout includes a parallel plan to reduce the Greek national debt by €100 billion. Mr Venizelos will make a formal offer to bondholders next Friday.