Greeks in Brussels for Crucial Talks With Creditors

July 11, 2015 Updated: July 11, 2015

BRUSSELS— Greek government negotiators headed into bailout talks Saturday after both parliament and Athens’ international creditors gave the proposals enough backing to set up a weekend of crucial negotiations to stave off financial collapse.

The Greek parliament early Saturday passed the bailout proposals package with 251 votes in favor and 32 against.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said that the legislature “has given the government a strong mandate to complete the negotiation,” adding that “what matters now is the positive outcome.”

In Brussels, European Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said that at the meeting of the 19 finance ministers sharing the euro currency and the International Monetary Fund, “we have to show willingness, a sense of responsibility.”

He said a collapse of the Greek financial system would be felt far outside of Europe. “There must be reform, solid reform and they have to be put in place quickly, he said. It is also important for the global and European economy,” Moscovici said as he arrived for the meeting.

A source close to the negotiations said the international creditors saw the Greek package “under certain conditions … as a basis for discussion” but the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said creditors were still looking stronger commitments, tighter deadlines and more urgent action on several issues highlighted in the Greek proposals.

Making more concessions, though, will be tough on the Greek government since the shadow of severe dissent from governing lawmakers was already hanging over them. The plans contain tax hikes and deep spending cuts, including on pensions, that the six-month-old left-wing government had so far resisted.

Without a deal Greece, already desperately low on cash, its banks shut for the past two weeks and its population restricted on cash withdrawals, risks crashing out of Europe’s joint currency, the euro. It would be the first country to do so, and the consequences for the country and global markets would be unpredictable.

The austerity measures Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ government is proposing are so far from his radical left Syriza party’s policies that he suffered severe dissent in a late-night parliamentary debate that culminated in a 3:30 a.m. (0730 GMT) vote Saturday.

It comes less than a week after 61 percent of voters opposed similar reforms, proposed by creditors, in a referendum last Sunday.

Among the dissenters on the vote were two of Tsipras’s ministers — Panagiotis Lafazanis who holds the energy portfolio and Dimitris Stratoulis who holds the social security portfolio, and prominent party member and Parliament Speaker Zoe Konstantopoulou.

“I don’t support an austerity program of neoliberal deregulation and privatizations which … would prolong the vicious circle of recession, poverty and misery,” Lafazanis said in a statement.

All opposition parties except the Nazi-inspired Golden Dawn and the Communist Party voted in favor.

Speaking earlier in the debate which began just before midnight Friday, Tsipras acknowledged the reforms his government has proposed were harsh and include measures far from his party’s election pledges, but insisted they were Greece’s best chance to emerge from its financial crisis.

Tsipras said his government had made mistakes during his six-month tenure but said he had negotiated as hard as he could.

“There is no doubt that for six months now we’ve been in a war,” he said. “Now I have the feeling we’ve reached the … line. From here on there is a minefield, and I don’t have the right to dismiss this or hide it from the Greek people,” he said.

The proposed measures are certain to inflict more pain on a Greek public who just days ago voted overwhelmingly against a similar plan. But if approved by Greece’s international creditors, the deal would also provide longer-term financial support for a nation that has endured six years of recession, and address the country’s debt which the government has long argued is unsustainable.

If approved, Greece would get a three-year loan package worth nearly $60 billion (53.5 billion euros) as well as some form of debt relief. The country has relied on bailout funding since losing access to financing from bond markets in 2010.


Gatopoulos reported from Athens.


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