Greek prime minister not backing down

With a difficult week looming for Greece and amid rising pressure from creditors, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Sunday presented his government’s policy program in Parliament, pledging to implement pre-election promises to revoke austerity measures, though not all at once.

“We only have one commitment – to serve the interests of the people, the good of society,” he said, adding that it was the “irrevocable decision” of his government to implement campaign promises “in their entirety.”

The premier said the government would not seek an extension to Greece’s bailout, noting that it would be an “extension of mistakes and disaster,” and reiterated Greek demands for a “bridge” deal to be put in place until a “mutually acceptable agreement” is reached with creditors. “We do not intend to threaten stability in Europe,” he said, adding, however, that he would not “negotiate” the country’s sovereignty.

Tsipras said his government needs “fiscal space” for a discussion on restructuring Greece’s debt and a new deal, adding that increasing austerity would only exacerbate the problem.

He pledged to replace a unified property tax (ENFIA) with a new tax on large property and to increase the tax-free income threshold to 12,000 euros from 5,000 euros. He also vowed to introduce a fair tax system and crack down on tax evasion and corruption. Collective wage bargaining will be restored, Tsipras said, adding that the minimum wage will return to 751 euros a month from 586 euros, though gradually from now until 2016.

Greek authorities would also reinstate at the end of the year the so-called 13th pension for retirees earning less than 700 euros a month, Tsipras said.

A chief priority remains tackling the “humanitarian crisis,” he said, pledging free electricity and food to households that have fallen victim to the “barbarous measures” of recent years. In the civil service, immediate rehirings will include dismissed Finance Ministry cleaners, school guards and university administrative staff, he said, noting that this would not burden the budget and will come from planned hirings for 2015.

The premier also pledged to reopen ERT, the state broadcaster that was abruptly shut down in June 2013 by the former government, and to launch a parliamentary investigation to determine how Greece entered the memorandum. On privatizations, he said the government welcomed private investment but rejected a “selloff,” adding that utilities would not be up for sale. In a dig at Germany, he said it was a “historic duty” for Greece to seek war reparations and the return of a forced loan during WWII.

Tsipras’s speech marked the launch of three days of debate that are to culminate in a vote of confidence in his government. The coalition is certain to clinch the vote, with 162 seats in the 300-seat House. But winning around the country’s creditors will be tougher. Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis is to face his eurozone counterparts in Brussels for an emergency summit on Wednesday and suggested over the weekend that he would present them with a “comprehensive proposal” for a solution. Tsipras is to meet his European peers the next day at a leaders’ summit in Brussels. Another summit of eurozone finance ministers next Monday has been set as a deadline by Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem for Greece to apply to an extension to the European part of the country’s bailout which expires on February 28.