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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