Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras faces a tough balancing act over the coming weeks, as his leftist-led coalition attempts to complete the latest bailout review to the satisfaction of international creditors while offering Greeks on low incomes, and possibly other social groups, some relief from the impact of austerity.
Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos has already announced that the so-called social dividend given to citizens on low incomes will be “at least as big as last year.”
But, according to sources, Tsipras is also considering extending a proportion of an anticipated budget surplus this year to the middle class.
Such an initiative was proposed during a session of leftist SYRIZA’s political secretariat last week, according to sources, following Tsakalotos’s admission that the government is overtaxing the middle classes as part of creditor-mandated belt-tightening efforts.
It would be the latest in a series of efforts by Tsipras – including promises of permanent jobs to local authority workers, legislation designed to obstruct ride-offering services like Uber from encroaching on Greek taxi drivers and free public transport for the unemployed – aimed at bolstering the popularity of his party, which continues to trail conservative New Democracy.
Tsipras also appears to be keen to shift public attention away from a series of failures by his ministers, most recently the upheaval in the public transport sector that has accompanied a sputtering drive to introduce an electronic ticket.
Addressing a gathering of ND’s youth organization, ONNED, on Saturday, conservative leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis accused Tsipras of polarizing instead of governing – a reference to a vehement clash in Parliament between the two party leaders last week.
He added that Tsipras is leading “a band of useless” ministers, of impoverishing the country and of being compromised by the various radical groups within SYRIZA.
Certain factions, notably the Group of 53, continue to have objections to a series of economic and structural reforms being demanded by Greece’s creditors. That group is also opposed to the government’s stance on tackling the refugee crisis, objecting to a deal struck last year between Turkey and the European Union to curb human smuggling across the Aegean.
Maintaining cohesion within SYRIZA while completing the latest bailout review, ahead of the country’s planned exit from its third memorandum next summer, is not expected to be easy for Tsipras, fuelling increasing speculation that he may call snap elections next year, rather than waiting until 2019 when his government’s current term is set to expire.