As Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos struggled on with tough bailout negotiations in Brussels on Tuesday, comments by his European counterparts about the possible need for the opposition in Greece to back economic measures after 2019, when the next Greek general elections are scheduled to take place, spurred political upheaval in Athens.
The turmoil was triggered by the comments of French Finance Minister Michel Sapin, who claimed that the International Monetary Fund wanted Greece’s main conservative opposition party New Democracy to give reassurances on its positions after 2019.
Sapin said he had never considered the IMF’s participation in Greece’s third bailout necessary but stressed that a solution must be found to the impasse. He added that the persistence of the Fund on the need for tough reforms to the labor market was an “obsession.”
A few minutes after Sapin’s comments, the IMF denied that it required commitments from the Greek opposition.
However, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble broached the issue too, noting that some kind of commitment would be required from the political opposition so that the legislation of the post-2019 measures “will have substance, irrespective of the elections and their outcome.”
New Democracy, for its part, said that no such issue had been broached with its leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis during his recent visits to Brussels and Berlin. It repeated that it will not back further austerity and called on the government to “explain why it is seeking support from abroad for the approval of its measures.”
In response, the office of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras accused Mitsotakis of having “a hypocritical and subservient stance,” noting that until recently he had been urging the government to give in to creditors and complete the bailout review.
In a separate statement, Tsipras’s office denied reports that Athens was considering withholding support for a declaration to be signed in Rome on Saturday, charting the EU’s course after Britain’s departure. Athens simply wants the declaration “enriched… to highlight the importance of the European Social Model, which includes the protection of workers,” the statement said.