Government officials scrambled on Wednesday to present a positive narrative and a united front to the public despite the fact that bailout talks with Greece’s international creditors are crawling along and public discontent over further austerity is rising amid reports of divisions within the coalition.
In comments to Skai, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos played down the fact that Tsipras had declared a return to growth earlier this week even as the country’s statistics agency, ELSTAT, pointed to an economic slump.
“How could he [know]?” Tzanakopoulos remarked when asked whether Tsipras knew about ELSTAT’s figures when he heralded growth. “ELSTAT is an independent authority which announces its results without discussing them with the Greek government.”
Asked whether Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos knew about ELSTAT’s data, however, Tzanakopoulos, remarked: “You should ask the finance minister. I don’t know.” The comment fueled speculation about a rift between Tzanakopoulos and Tsakalotos, prompting the government spokesman to post a scathing comment on his Twitter account. “After the failed ‘Tsipras vs Tsakalotos’ it seems that some have moved to the sequel ‘Tzanakopoulos vs Tsakalotos.’ That won’t draw crowds either.”
Efforts by Tzanakopoulos to play down reports of a rift did not detract from the fact that Tsakalotos has adopted a different stance in bailout negotiations recently to that projected by Tsipras and his aides. Tsakalotos has made it clear in recent comments that he will not assume sole political responsibility for the negotiations, referring to a collective effort.
Speaking from Thessaloniki, Tsipras continued with his attempt to present a positive narrative as bailout talks drag on. A day after heralding the launch of a public consultation on the revision of the Constitution – a move derided as distraction tactics by the political opposition – Tsipras visited Thessaloniki for talks with representatives of local and regional business associations about growth-boosting strategies.
During his visit, Tsipras announced the creation of a “growth fund” for western Macedonia aimed at improving local businesses’ access to structural funding.
However, large crowds turned out to protest a new round of austerity currently being discussed between Greek officials and foreign auditors. Meanwhile in Athens, hundreds of farmers clashed with riot police over further increases in taxes and social security contributions.
Talks continued in Athens on Wednesday between government officials and foreign envoys with sources pointing to convergence on some issues but European officials indicating that an agreement is still distant.
An EU official in Brussels told Kathimerini that the prospects for a technical-level agreement by a March 20 Eurogroup are slim and that a deal in May is a more probable scenario.