June 6, 2019 / 12:44 PM / 11 days ago

Warming up for election, Greece's Tsipras rebuffs lenders

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Thursday rebuffed European Commission concerns over recent tax breaks, saying it was taking a leaf out of his political opponents’ book before snap elections.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras exits the Maximos Mansion to make a media statement in Athens, Greece, June 6, 2019. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

Leftist Tsipras, whose Syriza party lost badly to opposition New Democracy in May 26 European Parliament elections, implicitly criticized the country’s lenders who on Wednesday said they were concerned about a slower pace of reforms in the country.

“The results of the elections whetted the appetite of the old political establishment in Greece and ultra-conservative circles in Brussels to question our political choices and obstruct our plans,” Tsipras told journalists.

Snap elections are expected in the country on July 7.

The European Commission on Wednesday said pension payouts and tax breaks announced by Tsipras’s administration last month risked derailing agreed fiscal targets for Greece. Athens disagrees.

The country required three international bailouts and emerged from financial adjustment programs last year, but still needs to keep certain fiscal targets in check.

Tsipras, who stormed to office in 2015 on an anti-austerity platform only to relent and negotiate a new bailout with lenders months later, said his government sought to mitigate the impact of austerity on a public which had suffered enough.

Egged on by the election result, Tsipras said, those ‘ultra conservative circles’ in Brussels had got to the point of suggesting dismissals of short-term contract workers in the civil service.

“We haven’t had that issue since 2014,” he said, in a pointed reference to the year before his election and when a coalition of New Democracy and Socialist PASOK was in power.

In its post-bailout surveillance report on Wednesday, the Commission said it anticipated Greece would have to reduce its contract workers by about 1,550 people. The country had not respected a ceiling on temporary staff in 2018, it said.

Reporting By Michele Kambas; Editing by Toby Chopra

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