Greek opposition leader 'vindicated' by IMF
Greek opposition leader Alexis Tsipras feels "vindicated" by the International Monetary Fund's recent change of tone on austerity, he told this website ahead of a meeting with German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble on Monday (14 January).
The meeting is a first and suggests a change of sentiment in the German government towards the leftist leader who has fiercely criticised Chancellor Angela Merkel for her "austerity diktat", claims he repeated on Sunday during a speech to the leftist German party Die Linke.
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Schaeuble's spokeswoman on Friday said the meeting had been requested by Tsipras and the German finance minister accepted to see him because "we think it's important for the [bailout] programme to have a broad political support."
But Tsipras said he has no intention of changing his mind about the austerity demanded by the troika of international lenders.
"I don't believe Mr Schaeuble believes after this meeting they will convince me to support the troika programme. It's a good chance for me and Mr Schaeuble to exchange views," he told this website.
"The first step to exchange views in normal circumstances is to have an agreement about the current situation. And the current situation is that the IMF-EU programme is an unsuccessful programme. After three years of implementation, we are in a deeper recession and the public debt of Greece has gone up to very high levels," he added.
He wants to "reform" the current programme well beyond the changes agreed late last year that gave Greece two extra years to reach its deficit goals and the possibility to buy back some of its debt. Tsipras wants all of Greece's debt to be slashed, a no-go area for the German government.
"Austerity is like a bad medicine for the patient. We have to stop austerity," he said, noting that the IMF itself lately has recognised that it miscalculated the impact of budget cuts.
"That's the reason why we feel vindicated after three years of accusing this programme," Tsipras said.
Greece is in its sixth year of recession, with more than a quarter of working adults and half of the country's young people out of a job. Syriza is accusing the troika of overseeing a "criminal" policy of cutbacks in healthcare, education and burdening the middle class and poor people with ever more taxes while the country's oligarchs continue to dodge taxes.
Over the weekend, Syriza voted against new legislation introducing new annual income thresholds and scrapping tax breaks for the self-employed. The bill passed with a clear majority, however, as it is a precondition for the next bailout tranche in March.
Conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said the worst of the crisis - the prospect of Greece exiting the euro - had been overcome. But he warned that "there can be no letup in our effort because there is the risk of a relapse."
His party New Democracy has now overtaken Syriza in the polls by 0.5-1.5 percentage points - the first time since last year's elections. Samaras has also gained in popularity over Tsipras after a €43.7 billion bailout tranche was finally approved in December, after months of wrangling.
But Samaras' majority is being dented by several political defections in recent weeks due to the continued austerity drive. The three-party coalition still holds 163 of the 300-seat parliament, however.