• Syntagma square was again the scene of violence between protesters and riot police (Photo: S.J.Borne)

Greece passes austerity bill despite clashes

08.11.12 @ 09:29

  1. By Valentina Pop
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BERLIN - The Greek Parliament early Thursday (8 November) narrowly adopted an austerity package needed to unlock the next bailout tranche, despite a general strike and violent clashes with riot police.

On the eve of the vote, over 100,000 people took to the streets in the Greek capital, with Syntagma square again the scene of violent clashes with riot police.

Inside the Parliament, the mood was also fraught. At one point, finance minister Yannis Stournaras had to promise not to cut Parliament's staff wages as they threatened to leave the building and boycott the session.

The €13.5 billion worth of spending cuts and labour market reforms for the next two years are a precondition for Greece to receive the next tranche of bailout money, delayed since June.

During the debate, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras acknowledged that some of the pension and wage cuts were "unfair" and there was "no point in dressing this up as something else." But without them, Greece would face bankruptcy and "catastrophe" by mid-November, he said.

The bill was passed with 153 out of the parliament's 300 votes. Several coalition MPs abstained or voted against it. Seven of them were promptly expelled from their parties after voting no.

The thin majority will face another test on Sunday, when the amended 2013 budget has to be passed. This is also a precondition for the €31.5 billion tranche, which could be then approved by eurozone finance ministers meeting on Monday.

But in the German Parliament, which still has to approve every bailout tranche to Greece, there is scepticism that the disbursement could be made so quickly. "The troika report is not out yet, so we could not give a mandate to our finance minister to approve the bailout tranche on Monday," a parliamentary source told this website.

The troika - comprising the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund - is still holding back on its report pending the votes in Greece. The three institutions also disagree on how to keep Greece within the bailout's deficit and debt projections which are worsening due to delays, recession and mass unemployment.

The IMF is pressing for its EU partners to accept losses on their Greek bonds, but the ECB is against this as it would run counter to its ban on direct help to governments. Eurozone governments, meanwhile, do not want to give more money to Greece, already subject to two bailouts.

One idea is to front-load all the bailout money available this year and in 2013, and then return to a decision in the autumn of next year, after German general elections take place.