Gov’t drafting multi-bill after overhauling negotiating team

The government on Monday announced a shake-up of the team negotiating with the country’s international creditors, after Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis came under fierce criticism from his eurozone peers at a summit in Riga last week due to a lack of progress. Authorities also heralded a multi-bill that is to feature a batch of reforms that the government hopes it can pass through Parliament to secure the release of much-needed rescue loans.

The overhaul was announced by the office of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras who, it appears, is keen to speed up the pace of negotiations with creditors as Greek coffers run low. Tsipras agreed with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a phone conversation late on Sunday, to speak more regularly over the coming days in a bid to reach a deal. The shake-up involves the creation of a new “political negotiation team” which is to be “coordinated” by Alternate Foreign Minister Euclid Tsakalotos under Varoufakis’s leadership. The move was widely seen as an attempt to sideline Varoufakis, who came under heavy criticism in Riga by his eurozone peers last week. But Tsipras’s office stressed that Varoufakis enjoyed the government’s full support and that the minister had been “systematically targeted by the international press.”

The response from abroad was mixed, with some appearing confused about the practical impact of the overhaul while others appeared to welcome the change.

The overhaul also foresees the Finance Ministry’s general secretary, Nikos Theoharakis, who has been leading talks with the so-called Brussels Group, undertaking the drafting of a growth strategy to form the basis of a new deal with creditors in June. Giorgos Houliarakis, who has been involved in negotiations, is to take over from Theoharakis in leading talks at the technical level. Meanwhile, a new team has been set up to “better support” technical-level representatives of Greece’s creditors in their efforts to get official data from Greek ministries.

Shortly after being appointed to his new post, Tsakalotos clashed in Parliament with New Democracy MP Adonis Georgiadis, who accused the government of overhauling the negotiation team due to Varoufakis’s failings. “When you negotiate you make mistakes, when you don’t negotiate you don’t make mistakes,” Tsakalotos said. “We learn from our mistakes and constantly make improvements.”

Later in the day, Tsakalotos and Varoufakis both attended the new negotiating team’s first session, which discussed drafting legislation to include a batch of reforms from the so-called “Varoufakis list.” The reforms include “fiscal issues, tax administration, the auction of frequencies for TV channels, taxation of TV commercials and administrative reform,” according to a Finance Ministry statement.

Commenting later, Varoufakis said the multi-bill will be discussed by the cabinet on Thursday. “The bill includes our own initiatives and I hope they will be agreed,” he said. Tsakalotos said the provisions of the bill would be on “issues that we believe can pass through the parliamentary group or the cabinet.” Deputy Prime Minister Yiannis Dragasakis said a deal should be reached by “early May or – why not? – the end of April.”

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