MEP cries foul on Greek pay-out to political parties
The leader of the Liberal group in the EU parliament, Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt, has asked the European Commission to justify letting Greece dish out €29 million to its top political parties.
The Greek parliament on Monday (9 April) narrrowly passed the measure by 155 votes out of 300.
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The money is to go to the five parties which made the parliamentary threshhold in the last elections in 2009: the centre-left Pasok, the centre-right New Democracy, the far-right Laos and the far-left Syriza and KKE factions.
Pasok interior minister Tassos Yiannitsis said the funds will be used for campaigning in upcoming elections in May and for unpaid wages and other debts, such as to the state social security fund, the IKA.
The move caused controversy in Greece, which is currently slashing public sector wages and jobs in line with EU-demanded austerity measures.
Inside Pasok itself, MP Anna Delara said: "Given the unprecedented economic crisis the country is experiencing, the parties should be asking for their funding to be reduced drastically." Another senior Pasok MP, deputy defence minister Yiannis Ragousis, abstained from the vote and tendered his resignation.
The leader of New Democracy, Antonis Samaras, did not turn up for the vote. Laos and Syriza voted against the measure, while KKE MPs voted only that they were "present" at the decision-making process.
The smaller parties which do not qualify for the cash - including Verhofstadt's Liberal group ally, the Democratic Alliance - also complained.
For his part, Verhofstadt in an open letter on Tuesday asked EU commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and economic affairs commissioner Olli Rehn whether EU institutions - which monitor how Greece spends its money under the terms of the Greek bail-outs - agreed the move.
"Did the troika [the EU budget monitors] and your representative within it ever give his agreement to such a payment? Was such a payment discussed with your services?" he asked. He noted that the money "provides a huge advantage to the main established parties" in the May elections, even though the parties in question "are largely responsible for the current situation in Greece."
A spokeswoman for the Greek interior ministry, Minetta Vidali, on Wednesday told EUobserver it is unclear whether the EU can legally block the payment.
"I don't think there is a problem because the money is already agreed in the annual budget ... I don't think they will do such a thing. [But] I don't know the way they work," she said.
Vidali added that the two main parties - Pasok and New Democracy - are so deep in debt that they can no longer borrow money from banks and that some Pasok staff have not been paid for four months. "We have elections coming and they owe a lot of money ... [so] it's a real problem," she said.
The commission could not be contacted for a comment early on Wednesday.