Seeking a lifeline for his government, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has been at pains to link the conclusion of the second review of the country’s third bailout to discussions on debt relief, which, he believes, will allow his administration to offset the fallout from the drive to privatize state assets and the harsh measures to come in the winter.
Speaking to the Euromed Summit on Monday in Vravrona, eastern Attica, on Monday, Tsipras insisted that Greece’s creditors must uphold their commitments for Greek debt relief by the end of 2016.
Tsipras is eager to start debt relief talks, which he could present as tangible fruit of his government’s labor to an increasingly disillusioned and angry electorate, who, to a large degree, believe that the PM has long strayed from his pre-election pledges. A poll published on Monday by the leftist Efimerida ton Syntakton newspaper showed opposition New Democracy increasing its lead to 11 points, with 28 percent saying they would vote for ND in an election, compared to 17 percent for ruling SYRIZA.
However, Tsipras’s efforts for debt relief may be unraveled from within his own political grouping, as SYRIZA appears increasingly fractured and torn on ideological grounds over the way forward, despite its leader’s effort to bottle up dissent during a meeting of the party’s political secretariat on Sunday.
A case in point has been Greece’s state asset privatization program, which Parliament approved last May, triggering the vehement opposition of party “purists” on ideological grounds.
The loudest dissent came on Monday when the Group of 53 faction – the self-appointed guardians of party purity – publicly urged SYRIZA members to “fight against privatizations in the energy sector” – as they view the persistence of Greece’s creditors to push for the sale of state companies through an ideological prism rather than a strictly economic one.
This battle from within has been clearly highlighted by the firm opposition of Energy Minister Panos Skourletis to the sale of a 17 percent stake in the Public Power Corporation.
Skourletis said last week that his refusal to get on board was not a “personal crusade” but dictated by increasing opposition to the sale emanating from within the ruling party, which could pose a serious threat to the government’s survival if it goes ahead.
The Group of 53, which is led by Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, has insisted that leftist principles stipulate that energy must remain within the realm of the public sector, otherwise, it said on Monday, “we cannot talk of leftist policy on the sidelines of the bailouts” – referencing Tsipras’s much-touted pledge to introduce a more socially sensitive program in parallel to the austerity imposed by the country’s international lenders.
The Group of 53 took it upon itself to defend Skourletis on Monday, stating in a post on its site, Commonality, that he was “right” in his fight to maintain the public nature of the Independent Power Transmission Operator (ADMIE) “against the demands by creditors and the willing within the country, including the leadership of TAIPED [the country’s privatization agency].”
The Group of 53’s statement carried added weight as it came just days before an expected cabinet reshuffle.