Athens.- ANA-MPA, AP
With 154 votes in favor and 140 votes against, the Greek parliament approved the omnibus draft bill on prior actions in the early hours on Saturday, following a roll call vote. In total, 294 lawmakers participated in the vote while 6 were absent.
The votes in favor came from the governing coalition parties SYRIZA and ANEL, while all the opposition lawmakers voted it down in principle. One ANEL MP, Nikos Nikolopoulos, voted the bill in principle but voted against the articles 1, 2, 5, 10, 13, and 21.
SYRIZA MP Vasiliki Katrivanou, New Democracy MPs Adonis Georgiadis and Anna Karamanli, the leader of the Democratic Coalition (and PASOK leader) Fofi Gennimata and Giannis Maniatis and Potami MP Katerina Markou were not present.
Main opposition New Democracy voted against all articles except number 14 which limits early retirements. The Democratic Coalition only approved articles 14 and 17 on the railways and the restructuring of the Athens Urban Transport Organization (OASA). Potami approved only article 10 on financial management and the Supreme Court of Audit. Golden Dawn, the Communist Party and the Centrists Union, voted against all the articles.
Late Friday, several thousand protesters, many from a Communist backed labor union, joined a peaceful anti-austerity rally outside parliament before the vote. Several prominent politicians who were former Tsipras allies joined the protest.
“We can’t accept a new crime at the people’s expense. They’re trying to destroy the welfare state. Everyone must fight it,” protester Eleni Menegaki said.
The new cost-cutting measures include penalizing early retirement and expanding a widely hated property tax.
Tsipras’ Cabinet is now racing to overhaul its troubled pension system and impose a raft of new cutbacks. The measures are required before crucial funds can be injected into the country’s ailing banks.
The government also wants relief from its debt, which is set to exceed 190 percent of Greece’s annual national income next year. Eurozone lenders have promised discussions but only if certain economic measures are met.
A BUSY WEEK AHEAD
Having passed a multi-bill of measures through Parliament, the government has now turned its attention back to foreign creditors who must approve the release of 2 billion euros in rescue loans and launch a critical review of Greece’s finances and reform progress.
Representatives of Greece’s lenders – the European Commission, the European Central Bank, the European Stability Mechanism and the International Monetary Fund – are expected to return to Athens on Tuesday to start a review that, Greece hopes, will end successfully, paving the way for the launch of talks on debt relief.
The auditors are to scour Greece’s finances too, following the presentation of the draft budget. Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos is expected to request flexibility, arguing that the recession estimates in the draft budget – 2.3 percent of gross domestic product this year and 1.3 percent next year – are overly pessimistic.
As regards the 2-billion-euro loan tranche, the Euro Working Group is to convene on Wednesday and may recommend the immediate release of the money or may ask Greece to legislate more actions from the first list of prior actions.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is also bracing for a busy week, culminating with a visit to Athens by French President Francois Hollande on Thursday and Friday. Hollande, who is to address Parliament on Friday, will be traveling with seven top government officials and several French entrepreneurs.
The decisions of the Summit meeting on tackling the refugee crisis on Thursday were in the right direction Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said during his address to parliament on Friday, which is debating the omnibus bill on prior actions. A vote by roll call is expected to start at midnight.
Commenting on the Summit agreement, he noted that Europe is moving at a very slow pace on this issue and that there are differing opinions on how to deal with it, while he also criticized the xenophobic and at times extremely conservative stance of some governments which choose to raise walls and razor-wires, or respond violently to refugees seeking a better life.
Greece, he said, has made it clear that it is very important to transfer gradually the burden arising from the large number of arrivals from the Greek islands to the Turkish coast, so that the relocation procedure is conducted directly from there and so that the Aegean will stop becoming a grave for those fleeing war and to curb the exploitation from traffickers.
He also clarified that Greece is ready to back the EU in its decision to assist Turkey in addressing the refugee crisis, noting however that this doesn’t mean there can be any concessions or compromises on Greece’s side and the European side on issues of national sovereignty. On that note, he reiterated the government’s position that there cannot be any joint patrols in the Aegean between the two countries.
Turning his attention to taxation and the imminent vote on the draft bill, Tsipras warned that the State will continue to fight tax evasion. “If some people thought that because the year is drawing to a close they would evade tax audits in large tax cases, or in the cases of the infamous ‘lists’ they are deluded,” Tsipras said and announced that the finance ministry is tabling an amendment granting a one-year extension to all such cases.
He also announced that the government will submit on Monday (October 19) the long-awaited draft bill on media licensing adding that he hoped the opposition will approve it.
Tsipras also shot down accusations that the new bill introduces new measures and new tax burdens. “The uproar over the new measures and new tax burdens has been denied. There are no new measures.” He admitted the bill includes tough measures which everyone – including the opposition parties – knew since August.
New Democracy will not grant the government a blank cheque by approving every article in the omnibus draft bill on prior actions, party leader Vangelis Meimarakis said during the debate in parliament on Friday night.
“We will vote what doesn’t cause recession, whatever is in favour of people’s interests and we will vote against everything that is against growth and society. We will not give you a blank cheque,” the leader of the main opposition said addressing the government ministers.
He also accused Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of asking EU Commissioners and heads of state at the recent Summit meeting to pressure the opposition in Greece to vote the prior actions. “You told [German Chancellor] Mrs Merkel that its sister party [in Greece] will not vote for the draft bill?”
Responding to Tsipras’ mentions to the so-called Lagarde List, Meimarakis accused the prime minister of trying to scare New Democracy with the ongoing tax audits, but noted the party is “not afraid of anything”. He went on to criticize Tsipras for his statements on the questions raised for the wealth statements of government ministers. “He [Tsipras] decided everyone is innocent. How was he informed? Did he see what is missing from the statements? We believe the independent Justice and the honest judges and they are the ones who will make the decisions. You don’t scare us; we want everything to come to light.”
Communist Party leader Dimitris Koutsoumbas accused the government on Friday of increasing its propaganda in favour of the bailout agreement as the vote on the prior actions bill approached.
“As the vote approached, you increased the volume of your propaganda to maintain the illusions on corrective action, on a supposed continuation of the negotiations. You are trying to win time and secure the people’s tolerance,” he said addressing the government during his speech in parliament which is debating the omnibus draft bill on prior actions.
Koutsoumbas said the government is implementing every single law it received from the previous government and has also added new and worse legislation to what it found.
Commenting on the Prime Minister’s pledges to write down Greece’s debt, he said the government is concealing the fact that the people will have to pay it in its entirety.
Potami leader Stavros Theodorakis urged the government to cut spending starting from the top levels of administration instead of burdening the same tax payers, during his address to parliament on Friday, which is debating the omnibus bill on prior actions.
“If you want to save and lighten the tax burden of the people from the memorandum, start from your entourage from the high offices of power,” Theodorakis told government members. “Abolish what is weighing us down, what is unnecessary … whatever doesn’t serve citizens but serves those around the party apparatus.”
To this end, the leader of Potami urged the government to cut the number of ministries and general secretariats and to publish a full list of civil servants posted in party and MP offices.