Athens.- (GreekNewsOnline, ANA-MPA)
The SYRIZA-ANEL coalition government late on Saturday passed the 2017 budget in Parliament with 152 votes. All opposition parties (New Democracy, Golden Dawn, PASOK, Communist Party KKE, Potami and Centrists Unions) voted against as well as independent deputies (146). Two deputies were absent. The political leaders exchanged harsh criticism at the end of the five-day debate that was concluded with a roll call vote.
The Greek people trusted us to take the country out of the crisis that you (former New Democracy government) have caused; it gave us a four-year mandate that we will see through, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said during the debate.
The Greek economy stabilized in 2016 and returned to growth rates, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Saturday during the debate on 2017 budget in Parliament.
Tsipras stressed that 2017 will be a milestone for Greece’s exit from the crisis adding that the 2017 budget is a budget of optimism, growth and recovery.
“The 1.75 primary surplus target for 2017 will not only be met, but it will reach 2 percent,” he underlined.
Regarding unemployment, he said that it was reduced from 27 percent to 23 percent and it is expected to drop even further.
The aim of the government is the second programme review to be concluded as soon as possible in order to get prepared for the return to the markets. On labour issues, he said that the government will not accept reforms that are not included in the EU acquis.
Tsipras added that the 2017 budget provides for 300 million euros in the sectors of health and education.
The 2017 budget adds more than 1 billion euros in new taxes, mostly indirect taxes on items from phone calls to alcohol. It also cuts spending by over 1 billion euros.
Greek lawmakers voted on imposition of extra taxes on cars, fixed telephone service, pay TV, fuel, tobacco, coffee, beer and other items. If the measure is approved, the government will be allowed to cut public spending on salaries and pensions.
Greece hopes the cuts could be satisfactory enough for the European Union (EU) institutions and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to give Athens the funds it desperately needs to shore up its debt-stricken economy.
The cuts are also meant to facilitate Greece’s return to debt markets by early 2018. That would only be the case if the European Central Bank opens Greece’s access to its quantitative easing (QE), an asset purchase program which currently excludes Athens.
The new budget is highly likely to anger the public and critics of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who came to power in early 2015 on a platform of opposing EU austerity and increasing pensions and salaries. However, he has vowed that 2018 will be the end of the economic pressures for the Greeks and the public would feel the result of current painful measures beyond that time.
Last week, Eurozone lenders approved a series of short-term relief measures to help Greece repay its huge public debt, which will reach 315 billion euros this year. However, the EU and IMF creditors should conclude a final audit of Greece’s reform next year to allow the country to enjoy fresh bailout funds.
Main opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis lashed out at Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at his speech during the debate on 2017 budget in Parliament on Saturday.
“The decline of the country in the last two years is unprecedented; no other government has caused so much damage to the country. The two parties, SYRIZA and ANEL, have boosted extreme demagogy, undermined every attempt of reviving the country, and turned growth into recession,” he underlined.
“The cost of your governance is huge,” Mitsotakis said to the prime minister and added: “You have no plan. They only thing you are doing is imposing 2.6 billion euro new taxes which you believe they do not undermine the competitiveness of the Greek companies and most of them are indirect taxes that you used to call unfair.”
The leader of the main opposition also accused the prime minister of having failed in the two main targets he had set: abolishing austerity and reducing the debt. As he said, the measures on the debt are equivalent to a memorandum after the third memorandum.
Regarding the debt relief, he said that it is necessary but not the solution to get the country out of the crisis.
Communist Party KKE secretary general Dimitris Koutsoumbas accused the government of following “a disgraceful policy” and trying to “turn black into white.”
Koutsoumbas was speaking in Parliament during the debate on 2017 budget to be voted at midnight.
“No words can describe the disgrace of your policy,” he said adding that the recent relief measures for low pensioners and the Aegean islands constitute a drop in the ocean.
The conclusion of the second programme review within December is feasible, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos on Saturday said in an interview with Agora newspaper.
“I think that the conclusion of the second programme review is still feasible and I have repeatedly said that most of the people involved seek a solution. We have made clear our position regarding the importance of collective contracts. The working people have suffered the most from the crisis. If Europe does not ensure the conditions so that they can participate in the recovery phase, then it has no future. We have also made clear that taking additional measures after the end of the programme is not justified on political or economic grounds,” Tsakalotos underlined.
Regarding the developments on the latest Eurogroup meeting, he said that this is what is happening with all negotiations, officials do not express their views until the very last moment.
However, he expressed his optimism over Greece’s participation in ECB quantitative easing programme as all institutions and member states are well aware of its importance.
He added that the government aims at reducing primary surpluses to 2.5 pct as soon as possible. Asked on the role of Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem, he said that he may be strict sometimes, but he is a man that honours his word. “He believes that the Greeks meet their commitments and the Eurogroup must do the same,” he stressed.
The second programme review will be concluded without new measures and with the restoration of collective negotiations, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos on Saturday said in Parliament during the debate on 2017 budget.
“It is time for recovery and the main question, the main social issue is who will benefit from this recovery,” Tzanakopoulos noted. And this is the reason, he added, why this government must remain in power, “so that the benefits of the recovery are distributed to the working people and not to the few.”
The government spokesman accused main opposition New Democracy of arrogance and contempt towards working people as it considers the insistence on collective negotiations an ideological obsession of the left.