Frantic SYRIZA Planning Return of Low-Income Pensioner Bonus

FILE - Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos arrives to the Eurogroup Finance Ministers meeting at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Monday, March 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

ATHENS – Floundering in polls after reneging on anti-austerity promises, the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA now plans to add to a list of handouts the return of an auxiliary benefit to low-income pensioners in what political rivals said was an open bid to buy votes.

Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos said the government is considering bringing back the EKAS secondary benefit as part of a package of solidarity measures to counter devastating austerity continued by SYRIZA after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras went back on his word to help workers, the retired and the poor.

Tsakalotos, who had admitted deliberately overtaxing the middle class to get enough money to redistribute to lower-income groups, said the EKAS might come back “in a more targeted form” without explaining what he meant.

He also said greater protection from confiscation of bank accounts by the state might be given such as a higher limit of money that could be exempted from seizure after raids on depositors has continued. The ceiling now is 1,200 euros ($1345.65.)

“The abolition of EKAS was admittedly one of SYRIZA’s greatest defeats,” Tsakalotos said in an interview with Antenna TV. “You win some, you lose some,” he said of the negotiation with international creditors that ended the auxiliary pension.

The government is also planning to give what it said would be permanent hikes in pensions that would be far lower than how much was lost in repeated slashes as Tsipras frantically tries to claw back into the race against the major opposition New Democracy.

SYRIZA candidates are trailing the Conservatives in the contest for seats in the European Parliament and Greek municipalities in May 26 elections and Tsipras is far behind New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis in polls for general elections coming later this year.

The government has been cutting the Value Added Tax (VAT) it raised to 24 percent to 13 percent in a number of categories but it’s been confusing, such as cutting the tax for coffee and beverages in supermarkets but not at cafes, tavernas and restaurants.


Tsakalotos said the government would also give a small break for taxpayers who pay their state debts in one installment instead of over 10 years as it’s allowing.

He denied the handouts were handouts saying they were part of a well-crafted scheme by the government to help people it had hammered for four years and had been planning it since the Aug. 20, 2018 end of eight years worth of three bailouts of 326 billion euros ($365.67 billion) and not panic over plummeting in polls.

“We know that things aren’t going well, we know that people are struggling,” he said.

“We had to reach April to deliver a surplus from the fiscal space and this is why we have a more socially geared package for 2019 and a more growth-oriented one for 2020,” he added, without providing details of what the growth package would entail.

The handouts are being funded by a larger than expected primary surplus that the government said exceeded the goal of 3.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) set by the Troika of the European Union-European Central Bank-European Stability Mechanism (EU-ECB-ESM.)

The lenders put up 86 billion euros ($96.44 billion) in a third rescue package in the summer of 2015 that Tsipras said he wouldn’t seek or accept because it came with more devastating conditions he vowed to reject but accepted.

But the Troika is said to be anxious the handouts are cutting deep into the primary surplus, which already doesn’t include interest on the debt, the cost of running cities and towns, state enterprises, social security, some military expenditures and built partially by delaying payments to people and businesses owed money by the state.