The Greek government continued to appear divided on Wednesday over the matter of whether to pay a one-off benefit to civil servants and public sector pensioners, amid pressure from both its supporters ahead of elections and the country’s creditors.
In a briefing to journalists, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos sought to appease both sides, leaving the door open to a possible handout while stopping short of guaranteeing it.
“If in the future, the fiscal potential is there, we will think of a way in which the extra money can be used to support Greek society,” he said.
Meanwhile, however, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos struck a different note in an exclusive statement to Kathimerini. Asked about some 650 million euros that his ministry is reported to have earmarked for distribution to public sector staff and retirees, Tsakalotos remarked that the surplus was the result of “an accounting issue” but indicated that it would not be distributed.
“It is credit that was there in case we were unable to pay retroactive [payments] in 2018,” he said. “As it was not needed, it now remains as credit,” he said, adding that “we have no intention of spending it as then it would count as an expense for 2019 and would have a negative impact on fiscal targets.”
The difference in stance between Tzanakopoulos and Tsakalotos came just a day after a statement by Deputy Labor Minister Tasos Petropoulos, according to which Easter handouts are in the cards, was rebuffed by Tsakalotos.
According to sources, the government is considering offering an Easter handout but had wanted to announce it after a summit of eurozone finance ministers scheduled for April 5, assuming that that meeting approves the disbursement of some 1 billion euros to Greece from the country’s creditors.
The government is keen to ensure that Greece’s lenders do not get the impression that it is lagging in reforms and making promises that compromise its budget targets in a bid to boost its popularity ahead of elections.
“This government is not distributing money by helicopter, it is not doing pre-election tricks,” Tzanakopoulos told reporters. “It has a very specific fiscal but also social policy which it has unfolded over the course of its term.”