Tsipras faces tightrope act after IMF chief says pension cuts unavoidable

TAGS: Politics, Economy, Diplomacy

The government faces an extremely difficult week as labor unions increase the pressure over its plans for pension reform and representatives of the country’s creditors discuss the details of those changes and other belt-tightening measures with Greek officials.

The social upheaval comes amid indications that Greece’s creditors are in no mood for compromise, particularly the notoriously unbending International Monetary Fund. The IMF’s managing director, Christine Lagarde, stressed to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during a recent meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos that Greece’s proposal for pension reform will not be adequate, Kathimerini understands.

Lagarde indicated in her meeting with Tsipras that merely trimming future pensions is not enough to ensure that Greece’s fragile finances remain on track. Tsipras is said to have told Lagarde that “there is no way” his government can cut the main pensions of existing retirees.

Lagarde is not the only senior official to have serious reservations about the government’s blueprint for pension reform. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble continues to maintain a hard line, reluctant to offer any kind of concessions to Greece as regards the implementation of its bailout program, while European Commission officials have emphasized their objections to the government’s proposals for increasing the social security contributions paid by employers, arguing that such a move would deal a further blow to the struggling business sector.

Tsipras is likely to face a difficult balancing act in the coming days, faced with conflicting demands from unions, opposition parties and foreign auditors.

Sources have indicated that the government is likely to give some ground on additional cuts to auxiliary pensions. But there are increasing fears that any insistence by lenders on yet another round of cuts to main pensions will destabilize Tsipras’s fragile government, which has already reneged on most of its pre-election promises and is clinging to its parliamentary majority with just three seats.