Greek Finance Chief Rebuffs ESM Criticism of SYRIZA Handouts

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 – Sounding off after staying largely silent to Greece’s creditors as he agreed to more austerity measures, Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos defended pre-election handouts being given by the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA and chided European Stability Mechanism (ESM) chief Klaus Regling for what he called a “severe” reaction.

After ducking a meeting of the Eurogroup of fellow finance ministers from the other 27 countries using the euro, where he was to be questioned over pension bonuses and tax cuts partially reversing austerity measures that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras agreed to implement, Tsakalotos went on the offensive.

Speaking to the Athens-Macedonia News Agency (ANA-MPA,) he said the criticism of the handouts that the Troika of the European Union-European Central Bank-ESM  is worried will undo reforms was to be expected, dismissing it out of hand.

“The package of measures voted through Parliament recently must be seen as a part of a comprehensive plan,” he said. “It is a balanced plan that started taking shape after 2018 and which has created the fiscal space for growth and the welfare state.”

Tsakalotos said that the reaction of Regling was too strong, as was that of Manfred Weber, the European People’s Party’s candidate for European Commission President ahead of the May 26 elections for the European Parliament and Greek municipalities.

The finance chief said that German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz had referred to a “success story” while European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici, a big Tsipras and SYRIZA fan, praised the government for meeting financial targets.

That came after Tsakalotos said that a delegation he sent to the Eurogroup meeting so he wouldn’t have to face his colleagues had been subjected to a “strict reaction” from Regling, who is unhappy Tsipras is rolling out handouts in a bid to get re-elected and jeopardizing the country’s slow economic recovery.

Tsakalotos said reactions were “expected by certain people inside and outside Greece … as macroeconomic policy is not neutral, and obviously, there will be reaction by political forces stuck on a policy of austerity,” without mentioning Tsipras and SYRIZA agreed to it.

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