Greece clears the way for bailout money after vote
ATHENS, Greece — The Greek Parliament voted narrowly early Monday to back a bitterly contested package of economic changes, clearing the way for the release of further funding considered crucial for a financial rescue, despite a last-minute attempt by the political opposition to postpone the vote.
The package passed by a wafer-thin majority in Parliament a day before eurozone finance ministers are scheduled to meet in Athens, where they are expected to discuss Greece’s reform progress and the question of rescue funding.
In a statement after the vote, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras described it as “a huge step toward the Greece of tomorrow, for young Greeks, for the Greek people.” But the vote led to the ejection of a member of Parliament from the conservative New Democracy party, which leads the country’s fragile coalition, reducing its majority in Parliament to just two seats in the 300-seat House.
The passage of the economic measures, which interest groups ranging from dairy producers to pharmacists opposed, opened the way for the release of up to 10 billion euros in loans, or $13.8 billion, that Greece needs to pay down bonds.
Greece’s so-called troika of international lenders — the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — has extended the country two bailouts worth 240 billion euros. The bailout money has been given out in installments in exchange for austerity measures, chiefly tax increases and cuts to salaries and pensions, that have slashed living standards and led to record unemployment of close to 28 percent.
The latest measures include steps to lift barriers to competition and a new framework for the continuing recapitalization of Greek banks. The bill also includes a pledge to distribute 527 million euros to Greeks on low incomes.
The bill was passed into law after a day of high tension and drama in the Greek Parliament.
Earlier in the day, the main leftist opposition party, Syriza, which opposes the terms of Greece’s international bailouts, called for a censure motion against Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras. Leftist leader Alexis Tsipras described him as “the key administrator of a death contract against the Greek people.” After several hours of vehement exchanges and argument, the speaker of Parliament rejected the leftists’ motion as unconstitutional because it came less than six months after a similar initiative by Syriza.
Stournaras, who has coordinated tough negotiations with the troika and is to head the eurozone meeting in Athens on Tuesday, accused Tsipras of attempting what he called an “unprecedented parliamentary coup” aimed at upsetting the government’s efforts to clinch rescue funding without delay.
Public opposition to an overhaul remains strong in Greece, though the violent protests that once accompanied austerity rallies in Athens have become rare after more than three years of economic changes imposed by the troika.