NEWS

PM heads to Brussels for critical talks amid rift with creditors

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Wednesday appeared defiant and determined to enforce his government’s anti-austerity program ahead of critical talks with European officials in Brussels later in the day which could be his last chance to break a deadlock and unlock much-needed rescue loans.

“We are not going back on what we have promised,” Tsipras told Parliament ahead of a vote on Wednesday on a bill aimed at tackling the so-called humanitarian crisis in Greece. “We are not asking for special treatment but equal treatment,” he said.

Tsipras is expected to meet tonight in Brussels with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, French President Francois Hollande and European Council President Donald Tusk. His aim is to seek a political solution to the current impasse as technical-level talks in both Brussels and Paris appear to have foundered.

The talks come amid high tensions between the two sides that were exacerbated on Wednesday when Greek MPs approved the government’s first bill. The legislation, which promises free electricity and food stamps for thousands of poor Greek families, was approved despite warnings from the country’s creditors, who are increasingly concerned about the government’s lack of progress in enforcing revenue-raising measures. The bill passed into law following a show of hands as most opposition parties had indicated that they would back it. The vote was held following a tense session prompted by Parliament Speaker Zoe Constantopoulou’s call for a roll call in accordance with a request by detained members of the neofascist Golden Dawn. An outcry at the suggestion, from opposition MPs but also many within the ruling coalition who were concerned at appearing to facilitate jailed GD lawmakers, obliged Constantopoulou to revoke her decision.

Addressing Parliament earlier in the day, Tsipras expressed his government’s commitment to sticking to its pre-election pledges and lashed out at the country’s creditors for suggesting that a bill aimed at tackling a humanitarian crisis was “a unilateral action.” He was referring to a note from a European Commission official to Athens on Tuesday calling for further discussions of the proposed measure. “They’re asking us to freeze legislation so that thousands of families without electricity can continue to freeze,” he said. He added that the bill was “the first to be written in Greece in five years rather than being translated,” suggesting that previous governments had taken their orders from creditors.

As for an agreement hammered out in February to extend Greece’s 240-billion-euro bailout by four months, Tsipras said Greece would honor that pact “to the letter” but expected its partners to do the same. He added that authorities would “not go back on what we’ve promised” and would “raise a wall of sovereignty and dignity” to threats. “The political change that started in Greece is rushing like a tide over Europe.”

Sources indicated on Wednesday that technical teams representing Greece’s creditors have been insisting on the terms that the previous government committed to and which Tsipras’s government has rejected. Tsipras’s key aim is to secure creditors’ assurances that the old measures are “off the table” and in return Greece will push through its own alternative reforms according to a strict deadline, the sources said.

With a cash crunch looming, Athens is likely to seek the release of a portion of a pending 7.2-billion-euro loan installment or the right to issue another 3 billion euros in bonds, according to sources.

But it remains unclear how forthcoming creditors will be as their patience appears to be waning. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble remarked on Wednesday that “time is getting tight for Greece.” “It’s going to be increasingly difficult to find solutions, that’s the big concern,” he said. European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said Greece’s partners remain keen to keep the country in the eurozone but “not at any cost.” On Tuesday, Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem raised the possibility of the imposition of capital controls on Greek banks – a move taken in 2013 to tackle a financial crisis in Cyprus – if Athens fails to move forward with its pledges to creditors.