ATHENS – Backpedaling after blistering criticism over his government’s chaotic response to July 23 wildfires that killed 96 people, Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras is reportedly mulling Cabinet changes and reversing pension cuts and other austerity he agreed with international creditors.
Changes in ministers could come before he speaks Sept. 8 at the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) where he is expected to announce handouts and measures in an attempt to reverse his slide in polls, including restoration of collective bargaining and raising the minimum wage.
He had failed to do that after taking office in January, 2015 but now his government said it can because three international bailouts of 326 billion euros ($379.22 billion) expired on Aug. 20 although the lenders, the Troika of the European Union-European Central Bank-European Stability Mechanism (EU-ECB-ESM) and Washington, D.C.-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned against trying to undo agreed austerity and reforms.
“The end of this period and the end of the memorandums means the restoring of rights, of collective contracts and the increase of the minimum wage,” he said, pledging a return to “quality jobs,” having failed to do any of that in the previous 3 ½ years and with criticism he’s making new vows only to prevent from being swept out of office in the next elections, which must be held by October, 2019.
Tsipras has essentially broken nearly every promise he’s made to roll back austerity, instead burying Greeks with more, including an avalanche of tax hikes and with more pension cuts due to begin on Jan. 1, 2019 and first-time taxes on previously exempt low-and-moderate income families the next year.
Media reports said Tsiporas at TIF could announce the pension cuts would be delayed or offset by handouts using money from a primary surplus – which doesn’t include interest on the debt, the cost of running cities and towns, state enterprises, social security and some military expenditures, and with the government delaying paying bills.
Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos told Sta Kokkino radio that the administration was planning “a series of policies to support and relieve certain social groups and boost the income of workers.”
He said next year’s pension cuts are “not necessary for us to meet the primary surplus target,” without explaining why Tsipras agreed to them in the first place.
SYRIZA’s political council was said to have taken up the idea of moving ministers around again and naming a new general secretary ahead of an expected reshuffle as Tsipras does when he gets into political trouble with voters.
Major rival and poll-leading New Democracy Conservative leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Tsipras was just continuing a pattern of deceiving voters and making hollow promises that would be broken.
Mr. Tsipras is the one that has already bound the country into an unofficial fourth memorandum, as he signed a third unnecessary memorandum, which has cost Greece more than 100 billion euros ($116.33 billion,)” he said, referring to a third bailout Tsipras sought in the summer of 2015, for 86 billion euros ($100.04 billion) and the real cost.