ATHENS – Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos said a tax hike on Greek islands is an unconstitutional “criminal act” even though he voted for it.
The provocative Kammenos, labeled a loose cannon by critics, is head of the tiny, marginal pro-austerity, far-right jingoist Independent Greeks (ANEL) who are partners in the coalition government led by Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras.
The government, with only its 153 lawmakers supporting it, rammed an omnibus austerity bill through Parliament, and Kammenos voted for every one of the measures in the 7,000-page document on May 22.
Now, however, he said the increase in the Value Added Tax on the islands is something he fought against and even threatened to resign unless it were withdrawn. When it wasn’t, he didn’t quit but turned instead to criticizing his own government.
The VAT hike – from 23 to 24 percent – was part of an avalanche of tax increases he and Tsipras swore they would never impose on the orders of international creditors but did and said they had no choice, although they had blistered previous governments for using the same reason to implement pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions, worker firings and privatizations.
“The VAT increase for the islands is a criminal act, an unconstitutional decision; a decision, for which I want to tell you, we waged a big battle in and out of Parliament … unfortunately, I reached the point of resigning as minister over the issue of the islands (and the imposition of the highest VAT rate on them), but we couldn’t win this wager, at least not at this phase.”
Kammenos said that Article 101 of the country’s Constitution, which stipulates that Greece’s administration should be decentralized, allows different policies to apply on the country’s islands.
He added that it is his “top priority” to restore the reduced rate once the economy returns to growth and that he would try to convince the country’s creditors that Greek islands are not what people see at expensive resorts on Myconos and Santorini in the summer, Kathimerini reported.
“During the winter, our islands are places where the residents have a tough time,” he said, stressing the lack of infrastructure and medical care.
The New Democracy Conservatives, of which he was a member at one time, said he should resign if he doesn’t support tax hikes he voted for but he wouldn’t respond.
With SYRIZA having only 144 seats in the 300-member Parliament, Tsipras needs ANEL’s nine votes and tolerates frequent provocative statements from Kammenos, who has called on SYRIZA ministers to resign when he didn’t like what they said only to back down almost immediately.