Athens, February 16, 2016/Independent Balkan News Agency
By Zacharias Petrou
The Greek government faces challenges both on the refugee crisis front and the protests against its social security reform plan. Its strategy in coming weeks is focused, however, on sealing a deal with creditors that would see the first bailout program review successfully completed.
Wrapping up the review swiftly would offer Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras a way out of the current troubles he is dealing with at societal level and change the agenda at a time during which Syriza is losing support among key voter groups including farmers, pensioners and professionals.
It would also relieve Syriza MPs from the heavy pressure and criticism they have come under, especially in rural areas, where some MPs avoid visiting their constituencies, following attacks on some of the party’s offices.
The trouble is that at the moment it is not yet clear if and when the high-ranking quadriga officials will return to Athens to continue the review of the country’s bailout program. Government sources hope creditors could return at the weekend but this could not be confirmed. However, negotiating teams of the government and the creditors are continuing their talks from a distance.
Creditors have reportedly already made clear that the key to concluding the first review successfully comes down to cutting existing pensions above a certain amount per month. This ignores the “red line” set by Alexis Tsipras that no existing main pensions will be cut.
The proposal being made by the lenders is for the government to cut existing basic pensions above 1,500 euros per month. It is thought that if the Greek government agrees to this, it will not have to take any other fiscal measures this year.
According to reports, the government is examining possible counter-proposals that involve concessions on the other open issues of the review (non-performing loans and the new privatization fund) while it will also seek to take advantage of developments on the refugee crisis and the differences of opinion between European creditor institutions and the International Monetary Fund.
“The European Commission will do its best in order to achieve the rapid completion of the program’s review. However, this does not only depend on us,” European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said on Monday.
The spokesman added that the first round of the negotiations was “constructive” adding that “substantial progress was recorded in several issues.”
He also stressed that intensive work at technical level continue so that the heads of the institutions’ representatives return “as soon as possible” in order to reach an agreement on a technical level in coming weeks.
Athens also hopes that its moves on better dealing with refugee flows (which inevitably means more refugees will remain in Greece) will prompt European partners – mainly Germany – to make concessions on the bailout review front.
However, this will not be easy as the stricter views of German Finance Minister could ultimately prevail. Wolfgang Schaeuble, who is not keen on relieving pressure on Greece on the reforms front, is supported by central and eastern European member-states (Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland) who constantly demand more from Greece on the refugee crisis front.
Other initiatives the government will launch include the introduction of measures included in its so-called parallel program favoring the poor, bettering health services, etc. This will give Syriza MPs a set of positive initiatives to present to their voters, allowing them to argue that the government is not just implementing the bailout agreement but is also shielding the poor and vulnerable social groups.
Finally, in coming days the government is expected to launch a staunch attack on what it describes as vested interests and corruption with media owners set to become the focus of attention.