Greek PM insists on referendum after offering concessions


Just a few hours after submitting a new Greek proposal to creditors that offered some concessions in an apparent bid to reach a deal, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Wednesday gave a televised address underscoring his commitment to proceed with a referendum on a proposal tabled by creditors to Greece last week.

The speech by Tsipras fueled confusion as his defiance opposite Greece’s creditors was clear in his insistence that he would proceed with a referendum. This is despite the fact the subject of the proposed plebiscite – a proposal made by Greece’s lenders – is no longer valid, having been revised by the creditors and following the expiry of Greece’s bailout.

In addition, the Council of Europe, Europe’s top human rights institution, said that Greece’s referendum would fall short of international standards if held as planned on Sunday, noting that the time period was too short and “the questions… not very clear.”

Complicating matters further, Tsipras submitted a new proposal to creditors late on Tuesday. In a letter addressed to the leaders of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, Tsipras said his government was “prepared to accept” the creditors’ proposals, subject to certain amendments, notably a series of concessions on contentious issues such as pensions and spending cuts. The premier also officially requests what amounts to a third bailout for Greece.

The letter, which was made public on Wednesday, was sent to creditors just a few hours before Greece failed to make a 1.6-billion-euro debt repayment to the International Monetary Fund and before the European portion of its bailout expired. Albeit delayed, the move appeared to indicate that Tsipras was ready to back down and reach a compromise with creditors as political pressure grows following his decision to close banks and impose capital controls at the beginning of this week.

But in a televised speech, Tsipras made it clear he would go ahead with a referendum, which has angered some European officials, and repeated his call for citizens to vote “No” to creditors’ demands. He also stressed that a “No” vote would “not mean a rupture with Europe.” Next Monday, “the Greek government will be at the negotiating table after the referendum, with better terms for the Greek people,” he said, flanked by Greek and EU flags.

Eurozone finance ministers met on Wednesday evening to discuss Greece’s proposals and concluded that there could be no further discussion of credit for Greece until after the referendum, Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem, said following a conference call. “I am very sorry about this situation given the strong determination of the Greek people to be a part of Europe and to remain a part of the eurozone, in which we fully support them,” Dijsselbloem said.
Later he sent a letter to Tsipras saying the Eurogroup would re-examine Greece’s request after the plebiscite.

An aide close to Tsipras told Kathimerini that, in the event that the “Yes” vote prevails on Sunday, Tsipras will go to Brussels to tell creditors that the people decided to accept their proposal. Asked whether Tsipras’s government would enforce the creditors’ proposals, the aide indicated that it would not and would call snap elections for the fall without explaining how cash-strapped authorities would finance the period between next week and the fall. In the event of a “No” victory, “then things will be simple,” the official said without elaborating.

Earlier on Wednesday, the government’s stance prompted criticism from across the political spectrum, with many calling Tsipras reckless. President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, for his part, stressed the importance of Greece staying in Europe. “Greece’s course was, is and will be in Europe,” he said and called on the US for support. “We appeal to the USA to boost Greece at this critical moment so that this course can be secured in the future,” he said.