Tension between the government and leftist SYRIZA rose on Thursday after dozens of protesters from the opposition party’s youth arm occupied the offices of the Finance Ministry’s general secretary, Giorgos Mergos, to protest comments he made earlier this week suggesting Greece’s minimum wage of 586 euros was too high.
Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou condemned SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras as “two-faced,” claiming that he “condemns the strategy of tension while [SYRIZA’s] young supporters smash up university offices and claims not to tolerate illegal activities when his cadres protect those who carry out sit-ins and acts of vandalism.”
Tsipras, for his part, accused the government of “authoritarianism” and claimed that police “viciously beat” two SYRIZA deputies who had attended the protest, Costas Barkas and Vangelis Diamantopoulos.
SYRIZA insisted that the protest had been peaceful while a police spokesman claimed that protesters had obstructed riot police officers from entering Mergos’s office. Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias ordered an internal inquiry into the incident.
In Brussels, European Commission officials also stepped into the debate over the minimum wage. On Wednesday, SYRIZA indicated that European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn had suggested in written response to MEP Nikos Hountis’s question that basic pay in Greece would be reduced next year.
On Thursday, Rehn’s spokesman, Simon O’Connor, said the commissioner’s response had not been explained correctly.
“I am sorry to see that Vice President Rehn’s response to a question by a couple of MEPs is being seriously misinterpreted in Greece,” he said during a press briefing.
O’Connor said that Greece had agreed to review the way the minimum wage is set, with a view to possibly improving “its simplicity and effectiveness” when troika officials were in Athens for a program review in November.
“There is no explicit or implicit agreements that there should be further cuts,” he added.