17 Mar 2015

Don’t pass new anti-poverty law, commission tells Greece

At less than 24 hours’ notice the European Commission has vetoed a key law set to be passed by the Greek parliament tomorrow.

The so-called “humanitarian crisis bill” was set to provide free electricity for some households, and address poverty among pensioners and homeless families.

But in a communication seen by Channel 4 News, Declan Costello, director at the EC’s directorate for economic and financial affairs, has ordered the radical left-led coalition governemnt in Greece to stop. A planned law to allow tax arrears to be paid in instalments, set before the Greek parliament on Thursday, has also been vetoed.

The move comes as Alexis Tsipras, the Greek PM (pictured below left, with European Commission President Claude Juncker), called for five-party talks at Thursday’s summit, and ahead of a critical decision by the European Central Bank over restoring borrowing facilities to Greek banks.

Greek PM Alexis Tsipras in Brussels

Mr Costello’s letter says:

“During our teleconference last night, you mentioned the planned parliament passage tomorrow of the ‘humanitarian crisis’ bill. We also understand that other policy initiatives, including the instalment scheme law, are in train that are to go to parliament shortly.

“We would strongly urge having the proper policy consultations first, including consistency with reform efforts. There are several issues to be discussed and we need to do them as a coherent and comprehensive package.

“Doing otherwise would be proceeding unilaterally and in a piecemeal manner that is inconsistent with the commitments made, including to the Eurogroup as stated in the February 20 communiqué.”

The European Commission had been seen as the most conciliatory of the bodies formerly known as the “troika”. Mr Costello’s letter effectively says that if the Greek parliament votes on the new law tomorrow, it is a violation of the compromise deal signed by finance minister Yanis Varoufakis on 20 February in Brussels.

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23 reader comments

  1. yiannis says:

    So until Brussels is in agreement, the impoverished Greeks shouldn’t have electricity?

  2. Lswiss says:

    Don’t do this, don’t do that. If the EU is so sure that Syriza that can’t produce sound policies, then why doesn’t it present a plan of its own ? A plan that will reduce bureaucracy, eliminate corruption, modernize taxation, reduce the 40% jump in infant mortality, reduce the 28% rise in suicide, encourage growth and improve employment opportunities, and rescue the EU banks. And we can give them 90 days to do so. What’s the problem ?

    1. Shakuntala says:

      A good comment. The EU is not only not helping to mitigate the suffering but are hell bent on punishing the most vulnerable of the Greeks. I do not understand their mindset. They are not human.

  3. Peter Moran says:

    Ignore their threats …..do whats best for the people…..is Greece no longer a Democracy and a Sovereign state?

  4. Trishadem says:

    I’m ashamed to be Irish today reading this. No doubt Mr Costello is only following orders but still…

  5. yxamonakis says:

    That is the spirit of Europe. if it costs let them die. Just as long as it does not upset the repayments to the ECB. And as long as it destabilises the government, we do not mind letting the poor suffer.In a European country where there is no social welfare provision and where the unemployed and the taxpaying poor are expected to suffer so that the Germans government can score a political point.
    But seriously, what do they find wrong with fighting corruption, tax evasion and poverty? And do we want to be part of a Europe that leads whole nations to poverty and degradation? and one that supports governments that turn a blind eye to corruption?

  6. Panos Kammenos says:

    Greek Deputy Minister for International Economic Relations Euclid Tsakaloto has said something sensible.

    He said, “we know that even if all debts were written-off, Greece would still have a problem unless it implemented a great deal of reforms in many sectors.”

    He said many reasonable things but only the above is good enough to justify that he is a sensible man. For the first time I have seen a good Greek.

    If I were a Greek I would take to the street to ask the current finance minister, Varoufakis, to step down. This will give other EU citizens a change of attitude towards this crazy new Greek government.

    As he said, they cannot win the current financial problem even if all the debts are written off.


    However, if the debts are not written off, Greece can have a breath if the debts are changed to one with a very low interest rate (say 0.01 % for instance) with a very prolong repay period. Imagine that 350 billion Euros may have half the value in 50 years’ time.

    That is to say they should not have to start with a scaring campaign (like threatening with domino crumble of many Eurozone countries, written off of debts, war reparation, releasing of terrorists, leaning to Russia and taking over Germany properties) and trying to make Italy, Spain, and Ireland to stand to Greece’s side to act against austerity.

    Step down some crazy officials and make reconciliation with other EU members.

    Beg to have a cutting of interest rates on debts and a extension on maturity time.

    Don’t mix the current financial problem with the war reparation issue. You can ask Germany to compensate for WW2 any time. However, this is just the issue between Germany and Greece. There are another 17 members in EU. Don’t hurt these outsiders with this reparation issue.

    Don’t extort EU members and IMF for money like North Korea extorting the world.

    It is okay to do away austerity. However, where the money will come? A negative budget is a good idea to stimulate the economy. However, what is the money source? Hence, reform is needed in many aspects.

    If Greece cannot find a money source to make the promise in the election of doing away austerity, think of printing new money. Think of leaving Eurozone. Or, think of dual currency system, like Swiss. In Swiss, both Euro and Swiss Franc are used legally.

    Reform or quit.

    1. Shakuntala says:

      I may not be as smart as Schauble etc. but my common sense tells me that to punish the most vulnerable of the Greeks, I.e. the homeless and unemployed is not going to solve the debt crisis. In fact it may exacerbate the problem. A little bit of austerity for the rich and those who are employed may help. Shouldn’t the rich be taxed and made to pay their taxes…If they are patriots they will willingly pay their share.

  7. Rhoula Pappas says:

    Greece is the victim of a wall street loan swindle. Merkle knows it. Obama knows it. Schauble knows it; Tsipras knows it. Junker knows it. everyone of them at the top knows it.

    Mr. Junker has had a long political career. I imagine that he wants to leave this earth having done something decent. Either he’s an honest broker or he’s not. Last week the EU President Martin Schultz offered Mr. Tsipras 6B for youth social programming. This now looks to me to be a bribe given that this so-called EU fronting Germany is using Mr. Junker as its backdoor Suzie.

    Hell hath no fury like a lover scorned.

  8. John Haworth says:

    Do you have to pass laws to do this?

  9. Luke Weyland says:

    Tsipras must either take the side of courage or lick the feet of Merkel and the EEU bankers.

  10. elli says:

    The fiscal impact of this law is actually not so big, as many of the measures to be included in it already exist, while provisions are kept at a minimal scale.
    So what’s the problem? Is it a matter of money or is it a matter of principle?
    Should the government really sit back and watch people scrounging for food in rubbish cans or send them the police to execute evictions from homes, just because “doing otherwise would be proceeding unilaterally” ?
    It’s a good thing to be “consistent with the commitments made”, as long as you’re alive.

  11. VISCOGLIOSI says:


  12. Ghon says:

    I wonder when Syriza are going to get the message. They do not have the power to govern Greece. Greece is owned & run by the EU & banks. the message is clear, if they dare to do anything that they were elected to do by the Greek people the EU (i.e. Germany) will mercilessly punish them & the Greeks (especially those who dared to hope by voting for Syriza.
    Syriza are going to have to decide who they are working for.

  13. Snewmarket says:

    The Greek government have got it right. They were voted in for these changes and unlike UK ministers they deliver on what they said they would do. Maybe thats why more people are engaged? The term Billy Liar comes to mind here…..

  14. Nikos Mamalos says:

    After 5 years of extreme austerity measures (employed by the people that ruled Greece for the last 40 years and therefore responsible for its bad economics) that made people jobless, poor, cold hungry and even homeless. The new government (1st time in power) attempts to pass a law to provide free electricity to the most needy and suddenly it has to answer to EU officials… Humanity and democracy have become words empty of meaning. EU is good for bankers only

  15. Frank Wilson says:

    Another scoop for Paul Mason, who has become an essential source of information if we are to see a balanced view of what is happening in Greece.

    The German media, in spite of the new Germany’s high democratic ideals, has sadly stooped to the level of nationalistic tit for tat and the ordinary German tax payer and voter is, sadly, not receiving the full picture.

    Perhaps Channel 4 should launch a German version for the sake of balance.

    Re the EU vetoing humanitarian aid to the poorest in Greece, this surely must be a result of a lack of coordination between Brussels, Berlin and Athens, for the price of this action is relatively small (a couple of hundred million euros compared to a national Greek budget of some 40 billion or so).

    Paul Mason’s reports show that either Berlin, Athens and Brussels are not talking effectively, or Berlin is seeking to veto anything and everything Greece does until it succumbs, surrenders unconditionally and signs on the dotted line without negotiating on a single issue.

    The whole affair reminds of the humiliation suffered by John Major on Black Friday (or was it Black Monday?) at the hands of the brutal Helmut Kohl, who we now know (thanks to Spiegel and his autobiography) cleverly maneuvered after German reunification to ensure that Greece would never receive a penny of due war reparations amounting to many billions of euros.

  16. Isidoros Diakides says:

    There is a play with words involved here. The Greek government has agreed not to proceed “unilaterally”, ie without consulting the “Brussells Group” first, with any measures that could have a negative impact on the overall deficit situation.

    The Greek government will undoubtedly argue that these measures do not fall into this category and that they do not have a negative impact etc.
    The TROICA hawks on the other hand would argue that they do and therefore Greece is breaking its word.

    In reality all these things have very little to do with the substance of the issues involved and they represent nothing more than a political battle for impressions and control.
    The TROICA hawks are determined to prove to the rest of the world that they are invincible and in total control of Greece and that the Greek government has already failed and completely capitulated to the powers that be.
    The SYRIZA government on the other hand is determined to prove, both to the Greek people and to its mostly radical Left supporters abroad, that this is not the case, . They know that if they don’t, they are a spent force and their election victory would have been in vain.

    In other words the stakes are much higher than the relatively small, (for Europe, though not for the Greek population), issue of a few modest by any standards humanitarian measures in little Greece.
    The unfolding Greek “saga” is exposing with increasing clarity both who is really in control of the EU and IMF institutions and the brutality of those in control, with their arrogant exercise of their power to subjugate national parliaments, control and exploit individual countries within the EU, do away with any democratic accountability over financial interests and impose a neo-liberal austerity regime across Europe.
    Little Greece needs all the support and solidarity we can all provide, not for the Greeks as such, but because Greece is clearly the front line in a war in which we are all involved and has implications for all of us.

    Isidoros Diakides

  17. fujitsu says:

    Greece should have left eurozone already. Why spend more time??

  18. Hermann says:

    I urge all those that have a say to stop escalating this war on words, both Germans and Greeks, both officials and journalists/bloggers.

    Half of this seems to come out of vanity, half out of pure cynicism.This leads us nowhere – except to a situation, where there is nothing else left than having Greece end up all alone and on its own. You think, this would be favourable to the poor Greek people? Well, I don’t…

    So what do you intend by this blame game?

  19. sim norris says:

    Classic case of over promising to get elected then blaming everyone else when the plans unravel. Lets remember the Greek mess was the result of a culture of fiddles. Dead people left on the state payroll with families still drawing their pension; tax avoidance on a massive scale; the list is endless. If Greece wants more of other peoples money to help them get through their difficulties they need to start playing by the current rules. If there is no real intention to do this and as a far left party they want to embrace Russian credit, let them. The price might turn out to be higher than they think though.

  20. Nikos says:

    This is a direct hit on one of syriza’s main pre-election promise, in an attempt to bring closer their plan for a left parenthesis in Greece. I also believe that their ultimate goal is to stifle any alternative narratives that are gaining momentum especially in southern Europe as people have had enough of cuts, povertisation, insane taxation and destruction of public services. The whole thing is a powerplay that if it continue will end up in tears and maybe future historians will write that in days past a left government tried to save capitalism from capitalists but failed

  21. sim norris says:

    Tuesday 17th commentary

    Could you make it clear when you ask for comments that only pro-Paul views like the ones posted will be considered. It would save time and effort.

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