Greece PM Tsipras in new anti-austerity rhetoric
Technocrats handling fiscal adjustment measures called “silly” by PM overseeing its implementation for last 16 months.
Athens, Greece – After 16 months of implementing austerity measures he had once railed against, Alexis Tsipras, Greek prime minister, has returned to his old, anti-austerity campaign rhetoric.
Speaking from the southeastern Aegean island of Nisyros on Tuesday, he called the technocrats overseeing Greece’s fiscal adjustment programme “silly” for failing to agree on the level of austerity Greece needs to implement.
“In theory, we have technocrats to tell us the right numbers, but they can’t even get the numbers right,” Tsipras said.
“They’ve often admitted that they’ve been wrong, but now they’re telling us again, ‘What’s wrong is right’.”
Tsipras was alluding to the International Monetary Fund’s attempts to distance itself from the latest Greek bailout, which has been financed solely by the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) – the eurozone’s sovereign distress fund.
In a blog post on Monday entitled “The IMF is not asking Greece for more austerity”, Poul Thomsen, once the IMF’s overseer of the Greek programme, said that Greece needs to modernise its economy, not cut social spending further.
“We think that these cuts have already gone too far, but the ESM programme assumes even more of them,” Thomsen writes.
Thomsen highlights the IMF’s chief disagreement with the ESM in calling for a major overhaul of Greek debt, to which eurozone hardliners, led by Germany, are adamantly opposed.
“Greece’s debt is highly unsustainable, and no amount of structural reforms will make it sustainable again without significant debt relief,” Thomsen said.
READ MORE: Greeks strike against ‘repressive austerity’
Taking advantage of this rift, Tsipras has now fired a broadside against the programme in its entirety.
Last week, he promised to spend an additional half a million dollars on low-paid pensioners, although he promises to keep spending within limits agreed to with creditors.
On Nisyros, he promised to suspend a sales tax rise on Aegean islands, which creditors imposed on his government last year.
“I’m talking about all the islands of the North Aegean and the Dodecanese,” Tsipras said, “which are bearing the burden of the receiving and hosting [refugees].”
Among those islands is Chios, which on November 30 held a one-day strike to protest against the increase of sales tax from 17 to 24 percent, in line with the rest of the country.
Costs and hardships
Islands have traditionally enjoyed a few benefits because of the additional costs and hardships of island life. The hoteliers’ association of Lesvos called the rise “an unexpected gift to our competitors”.
Tsipras says he will hire more than 1,500 teachers and 1,000 medical personnel on the islands. He also promises infrastructure works worth $64m until 2020.
“I’m waiting to see what, of all this, will actually get done, and whether it will be done in such a way as to be effective,” Manolis Vournos, mayor of Chios, said.
“The prime minister made a mistake in tying these things to the refugee issue, whereas he should have tied them to island status. Greece is the only country in the European Union without a recognition of island status.”
Eastern Aegean islands have become increasingly restive over the presence of more than 16,000 migrants and refugees, who have been building up there since an EU-Turkey Statement in March.
A vast processing zone
Under its terms, Turkey will take back those who do not qualify for international protection in Europe, but applicants may not leave the islands for the Greek mainland and continental Europe.
This has turned places like Chios and Lesvos into a vast processing zone.
Last month, hoteliers on Lesvos refused a rent subsidy from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in return for putting up migrants, fearing that the refugee industry will replace the tourism industry.
Chios’s municipal council went back on an agreement to allow the government to build a massive new refugee camp on the island, demanding the refugees’ removal instead.
The islands’ stance is changing national policy.
In a letter to the European Commission, Yannis Mouzalas, the migration minister, asked on Tuesday for permission for migrants from countries with low recognition rates to “be temporarily transferred to pre-removal centres in the mainland”.