Athens.- Greece’s Parliament on Wednesday ratified the Medium-Term Fiscal Strategic Programme, 155 in favour to 138 against — with five MPs declaring “present” — the most anticipated vote in the 300-deputy legislature since democracy was restored in the country in 1974. One deputy was absent during the roll call vote and one MP voted via correspondence.
Approval of the latest batch of austerity measures, tax hikes, wide-ranging reforms and accelerated privatisations means that the Greek government can expect the unimpeded allocation of the fifth tranche (12 billion euros) of an EC-ECB-IMF bailout in early July and continued deliberations, within the Eurozone, towards a second bailout if necessary.
Failure to ratify the mid-term plan would have essentially meant a no-confidence vote for George Papandreou’s government. A handful of MPs from the two major parties did not “toe the party line” in the vote, either voting against or in favour. The PASOK deputy that voted against was subsequently expelled from the ruling party’s Parliament group.
PM, Samaras speeches
before mid-term vote
“Parliament’s decision to approve the medium-term fiscal strategy launches a round of tough negotiations, ones aimed at boosting Greece’s developmental course. In a different case, the country will be met with catastrophe,” Prime Minister George Papandreou stressed on Wednesday, speaking in Parliament before the vote on the latest package of austerity measures.
Papandreou expressed certainty that the ruling PASOK Parliamentary group will rise to the occasion and vote in favour of the medium-term programme — hours before the 155. He stressed that main opposition New Democracy (ND) also relies on the same certainty, clarifying that “the ND MPs have adopted an irresponsible stance because they know that we will act responsibly”.
He said that the “ND MPs follow their leader, who is surrounded by people telling him that saying ‘no’ is doing good to his image.”
Papandreou stressed that “now is the time to display a measure of responsibility and make sure that salaries and pensions will be paid”. He also said that “many are protesting outside; those who suffer injustices and others who do not want let go of the privileges to which they have become accustomed. We should make sure that none of us will have to experience the consequences of a collapse…There is no ‘plan B’ for Greece. Our partners will only think how they can save themselves. There are no magic solutions. Things are simple: we can either follow the rough path of change or be met with disaster.” Main opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Antonis Samaras responded that “now is not being decided whether we will collapse or not, but whether we will make yet another fateful step toward the absolute economic collapse – the social and political collapse.” He said that ND has a responsibility “to tell the truth to our partners,” adding that he proved that the medium-term programme is not viable. He also said that he will be judged only by the Greek people.
IMP & E.U.
approval by the Greek Parliament on Wednesday of the medium-term fiscal strategy programme was an important first step toward resolving its long-term economic woes, the acting head of the International Monetary Fund told a press conference in Washington.
John Lipsky, the IMF’s acting managing director, said that the package of reforms voted upon “was not austerity so much as it was an important, ambitious structural reform. The debt and deficit are really symptoms of the competitiveness problem.”
Lipsky said that Greece needs to “eliminate the crippling inefficiencies” in its economy, even as it moves to put its finances back in order and reduce its debt.
EU leaders praise Parliament’s ‘vote of responsibility’
European Council President Herman van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Wednesday praised the approval, by the Greek Parliament, of the medium-term fiscal strategy, referring to “a vote of responsibility”.
A joint statement from Van Rompuy and Barroso stated Greece “has taken an important step forward along the necessary path of fiscal consolidation and growth-enhancing structural reform”.
“But it has also taken a vital step back – from the very grave scenario of default,” they added.
European parliament president and former Polish premier Jerzy Buzek said the landmark vote, in the years to come, “may be seen as a turning point for Greece and the eurozone”.
“This was not an easy choice to make and I salute those who voted in favour of this tough reform package,” Buzek said.
In a related development, the two biggest groups in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party (PP) and the Party of European Socialists (EPS) also praised the Greek Parliament’s vote.
Hoodlums again mar protests
Roughly 1,000 mostly youthful rioters on Wednesday again clashed with riot police outside Parliament, on the second day of a nationwide 48-hour strike called by Greece’s two main trade unions against the government’s austerity measures — which were nevertheless passed by majority vote in Parliament hours later.
The violent protesters, usually identified as self-styled anarchists and anti-state activists, threw stones and homemade firebombs against police, who responded with the use of teargas.
Just before 2 p.m. local time, police barricades in front of the Monument of the Unknown Soldier outside Parliament were overturned by protesters, prompting extensive use of teargas by anti-riot police.
In spite of the clashes, hundreds of people from the “indignados movement” remained at Syntagma Square, continuing peaceful demonstrations against the austerity measures, even in the face of provocations by the violent self-styled anarchists.
Since early this morning, downtown Athens is off limits for vehicles.
Sixteen people were injured in the clashes and taken to a nearby hospital. Only one person remained hospitalised.
Earlier, individuals participating in the “indignados movement” engaged in a brief verbal altercation with members of the communist party-affiliated PAME trade union, which had organised a separate protest rally.