New York.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
As the countdown for the 4-month extension agreed by the new Greek leftist government and its lenders at the Eurogroup has started, the political debate in Athens is not about the list of the reforms that shall be submitted to the “three institutions” (formerly known as Troika”) but whether the outcome of Friday’s meeting in Brussels was a victory for Alexis Tsipras and his Finance Minister Yianis Varoufakis, or a “kolotoumba” – a Greek word meaning somersault, or metaphorically a complete reversal in one’s campaign promises and policies.
The target of those speaking about “kolotoumba” is the hard-line left wing of SYRIZA, headed by the Productive Reconstruction, Environment and Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis and other smaller left-wing fractions of SYRIZA.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in a televised public address on Saturday defended the deal, saying that “we won a battle but not the war”.
Former Prime Minister and opposition leaders Antonis Samaras attacked Tsipras for trying to present the return to the memorandum signed on Friday at the Eurogroup as a success. A strongly critical statement was issued by PASOK, while the Communist Party accused the government for continuation of the same austerity policies under a different name.
The list with the reforms proposed by the government will be prepared over the weekend, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told journalists on Saturday, while the government meeting was underway to discuss the results of the Eurogroup on Friday.
“The government is in communication with its partners. The list of reforms will be drawn during the weekend and will be sent on Monday,” Tsipras said.
Earlier, Government Vice-President Yiannis Dragasakis said: “It’s not something complicated, it’s an easy process.”
According to “Kathimerini”, Friday’s agreement to extend the country’s rescue loans, although conditional, was greeted with relief by many people as a first step forward and away from the crushing austerity of recent years. Others were more skeptical, wondering whether the left-wing SYRIZA government will be able to keep even a fraction of its promises and how it will find the money to finance them.
The government will not proceed with the privatisations included in the memorandum or even more so with the fire sales of public assets and businesses, Productive Reconstruction, Environment and Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis said in an interview with Greek daily Efimeritha ton Syntakton published on Saturday.
The minister and leader of his party’s left wing, defended the government’s “red lines” saying they exist and they will not be crossed. “We will not agree to a deal which will aim at cancelling the core of our radical, progressive programme,” Lafazanis was quoted as saying to the paper.
Asked about the TAP pipeline, the minister said the government supports the construction of the south corridor for natural gas adding the country claims some offsets from the deal.
Commenting on the election of Prokopis Pavlopoulos as the new Greek president, Lafazanis said: “As far as the political characteristics for the person who becomes President of the Republic, I had and still have my own opinions, which I had the opportunity to express to the prime minister and during the meeting of the parliamentary group. From then on, I stated clearly that I completely respect the choice made by [PM] Alexis Tsipras and SYRIZA’s parliamentary group and this is why I voted in favour of Pavlopoulos’ election.”
Greece achieved an important success in its negotiations in Europe, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said in a televised public address on Saturday.
The full text of the premier’s address is as follows:
“Greece achieved yesterday an important success in its negotiations in Europe. In a tough and difficult real negotiation, possibly the first real negotiation, we set targets, we were organized, we showed determination but also flexibility and we eventually achieved our main goal.
I would like to thank from the bottom of my heart the vast majority of Greek men and women who stood by the side of the Greek government.
This was the most decisive contribution, our strongest bargaining tool. With this decisive support, we won a battle yesterday, but not the war. The difficulties, the real difficulties, not just those that concern the negotiation and the relation with our partners, are ahead of us.
About twenty days ago, we took over a country which was at the brink, with empty state coffers and a lack of liquidity. It was also a country deliberately trapped in a tight timetable, because some people were planning the scenario of an anti-memorandum interval, indifferent to the impact these calculations would have on an already troubled economy and on a country looted by the memoranda.
Yesterday, we cancelled their plans. We prevented the plan of the blind, conservative forces, within the country and abroad, to asphyxiate the country on February 28. We kept Greece dignified and on its feet.
And we proved that Europe is a field for negotiations and mutual viable compromises and not a field for annihilation, submission and blind punishment. In that sense, yesterday might be the more important for Europe than it is for Greece itself.
Eurogroup’s joint statement yesterday constitutes in principle an agreement-framework which bridges the time between the memorandum and our plan for growth.
It’s an agreement that cancels in practice the commitments of the previous government for wage and pension cuts, for layoffs in the public sector, for VAT hikes in food, medicine and tourism. It cancels austerity in practice and the mechanism that impose it, such as the unrealistic primary surpluses that cause recession.
It creates the institutional framework for the implementation of the necessary, progressive reforms that involve cracking down on corruption and tax evasion, reforming the state, but also halting the humanitarian crisis which is a primary duty.
Greek men and women,
We achieved a lot within a few days. But now we still have a long and tough road ahead of us. The Greek people know that. They have a government that will always tell the truth. Because our only strength is their support and trust.
Yesterday we made an important step, leaving austerity, memoranda and the troika behind us. A decisive step for a change of course within the Eurozone. But negotiations didn’t end yesterday. The negotiation is now entering a new, more essential phase until the final agreement that will take us from the policy of the destructive memoranda to the policy of growth, employment and social cohesion.
In this continuous and difficult battle, in this essential negotiation which is expected in June, the Greek government will march on with even more decisiveness. Always aiming at the restoration of our national and popular sovereignty and with the Greek people as our sole ally, supporter, but also strict judge.
An ally but also an active participant in the great effort for political change and social salvation. Our joint battle continues.”
In a press release issued by New Democracy, Antonis Samaras said the government essentially returned to the same place it was before, but under mush worse conditions. “Although they said they are abolishing the memorandum, now they signed its extension for four more months; only now it’s named differently!”
Samaras noted the government said they would abolish the troika, but now they are negotiating with the very same troika and they will continue to negotiate for the new memorandum, “because that’s where the country is heading. This is another thing they signed for yesterday,” he said.
He noted that the coalition government led by ND was exiting the memoranda at the end of February and by the end of the year “there really wouldn’t be a troika”.
The government, he continues, speaks of empty state coffers when it’s basing its existence on the surpluses left by the precious government and despite the fact that before the elections they were urging people not to pay their taxes.
“Now they signed for surpluses for years to come. They only received a vague promise to cut the target for 2015. Why? Not to distribute money, but because the economy is heading towards a new recession and will not be able to produce real surpluses. But you need the surpluses so that you don’t have to borrow and to exit the memoranda.”
Samaras also mentioned the Greek debt, saying SYRIZA had promised to write it down, but now it’s struggling to secure the measure ND had secured since November 2012. He also wondered where the government would find the money to fulfill its obligations in the coming months.
“Never before have so many lies been told and negated in such a short time! And not just pre-election lies. Their plans will now have to be approved by the troika. They’ll submit them on Monday and we’ll see which will be accepted and which will be rejected.
The president of ND reiterated his statement that though the worse scenario has been averted for the time being, the biggest danger is still looming. “They just put their signature on things the previous government was trying – and was close – to abolishing,” Samaras said.
He also criticised the government’s claim that this is the first real negotiation that has ever taken place. “With bank deposits fleeing, with the country’s creditworthiness being constantly downgraded, with recovery at risk of turning into recession and surpluses into deficits. If this is called ‘successful negotiation’ then what would we call a fiasco?”
Potami party, the fourth largest in parliament, described the agreement achieved between the Greece and its European partners at the Eurogroup meeting on Friday evening as “positive” and urged the government to proceed with the necessary reforms required by the agreement, saying the party will support them.
“It seems [PM] Alexis Tsipras eventually chose the path of reason, the path Potami supported from the start. It’s important of course to see the details of the deal, but it seems the nightmare scenario has been avoided for the time being,” the party said in a press release.
“Society needs to start healing its wounds and the economy needs to have a breather in a peaceful climate.”
Potami also said ministers must now present the necessary reforms the country needs and not hide behind vague promises like the ones they distributed freely in the pre-election period and repeated by some after their election.
The party also reserved its final criticism of the government choices until they’re announced on Monday.
No matter how they call it, the government’s deal is essentially and clearly an extension of the memorandum, with strict supervision, with reviews from the institutions (troika) and most importantly with a continuation of reforms against the people, the Communist Party (KKE) said on Saturday, commenting on the government’s agreement at Friday’s Eurogroup.
“Any programme review, ie. Lower primary surpluses, will not be done to truly relieve the people, but to further strengthen the capitalist recovery, the profit of the capital, while people will still be left with the unpopular measures taken during the past few years,” the party said in a press release.
“This is why even the crumbs promised by the government in its programme will depend on the agreement with its partners and will be given on condition that fiscal discipline and economic recovery are not endangered.”
The President of PASOK, Evangelos Venizelos, spoke of “lessons in negotiations” and criticised the coalition government of SYRIZA and the Independent Greeks (ANEL) for their handling of the negotiations with the country’s European partners, a day after the Eurogroup meeting.
“Fiscal and financial stability are the biggest parameters ensuring national strength,” Venizelos said, during a speech at the scientific convention titled: “The Greek state in the European Confederacy”, organized by Athens’ Law School in memory of its professors Dimitris Tsatsos and Giorgos Papadimitriou.
“The relation between sovereignty and stability is the catalyst and this is why it’s very important not to jeopardize your sovereignty by searching for the “Golden fleece” of a Plan B that never was, just before Ash Monday and under the threat of the Cyprus,” the leader of PASOK said.
*** With reports from Athens News Agency.