The European Union has insisted that no matter what political flavour of government is elected in Greece well into the future, they must all be bound to the current austerity strategy imposed by the bloc and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“For the EU and IMF to support [Greece], they need to be sure that this is for a sustainable effort, that it’s not for tomorrow for a government, but for future governments,” European Commission President said in Brussels on Monday (21 November).
“This is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. It requires a sustained effort from Greece,” he added, standing alongside interim Prime Minister Lucas Papademos.
EU and IMF power brokers are demanding that all main political leaders supporting the temporary technocratic administration go beyond a coalition agreement.
They want the political chiefs of the centre-left, centre-right and far right to sign letters committing themselves not just to carrying out the austerity and structural adjustment agreed at an EU summit on 26 October related to the country’s existing bail-out programme, but also any additional measures that are yet to be decided for a second rescue package.
The conservative New Democracy party backs the new government, but its leader, Antonis Samaras, has balked at signing the letter, saying he has already signed enough documents showing his commitment to the process.
Samaras is as committed to austerity as his centre-left counterparts, but wants a free hand to implement it in a way that is more in keeping with his party’s ideology, with less emphasis on increasing taxes on the middle class and more on public sector cuts.
At a meeting with the EU executive chief, Papademos, who was one of two vice-presidents on the European Central Bank board when Athens signed a first bail-out memorandum in 2010, tried to convince Barroso of the need for international lenders to release the latest, €8 billion installment of the country’s first bail-out package.
At a tightly managed press conference after the meeting with Barroso and Horst Reichenbach, the head of the task force for Greece directing the government how to proceed with austerity and structural adjustment, Papademos stressed the need for the letter to be signed and explained that it was necessary to legally bind future governments.
“This letter by the leaders of the parties supporting the government has been requested by the eurogroup and the IMF and the EU and I think it is necessary to eliminate uncertainties and ambiguities concerning actions to be taken in the future by parties that may be in power,” he said.
“We should all realise that our European partners are committing themselves to the financing of Greece over a long period of time and this is the reason why they are expecting a commitment not only by this government but also the political parties on their continued support over the medium and long term.”
The second bail-out term is expected to last until 2020, spanning at a minimum two electoral cycles under which governments would be bound to an austerity and structural adjustment strategy.
The imposition of an unelected technocrat at the head of the Greek and Italian governments has come under widespread criticism from a range of mainstream commentators, democracy campaigners, the hard left and the eurosceptic right.
However, three separate polls taken just after Papademos assumed office showed that between 72.9 and 79.1 percent believe the establishment of an emergency technocratic government is “positive”.
Barroso was sensitive to underscore that EU and IMF pressure was in keeping with democratic norms.
“[Greece] requires a real effort to national consensus and unity. We are in one of those moments where, while in full respect of democracy and different parties, we need to see a country united around some goals,” he said. “Of course we’re respecting democracy, and different political ideas, which are of course a part of democracy, … [the new administration] received very, very wide support in the parliament and most political forces in the parliament support this.”
“Less politics and more commitment to implementation is what we need,” he continued. “That’s what the Greek citizens want. They want less political games. They want results.”
Papademos was due to meet with EU Council President Herman van Rompuy later Monday afternoon and the chairman of the group of countries that use the euro, Luxembourgish Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, on Tuesday.
Source: EUobserver, OEIC staff