Greece’s major opposition party Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) leader Alexis Tsipras has lambasted Prime Minister and New Democracy Conservative leader Antonis Samaras for staying with austerity measures ordered by international lenders even though the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has admitted it made a huge error in underestimating how devastating the effect would be.
Greece is relying on bailouts from the Troika of the European Union, IMF, and European Central Bank to keep its economy afloat, but pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions have created a record 26.8 percent unemployment rate, closed 68,000 businesses, put 1.3 million people out of work and pushed 20 percent of the population poverty, while politicians, the rich and major tax evaders have escaped with impunity.
Despite the IMF’s mea culpa, Samaras has said almost nothing apart from that he has corrected its mistakes and has created a “success story” out of Greece, leading it to recovery and that it may return to international markets next year, even though the country’s statistical agency ELSTAT just released a finding that the economy shrank 5.6 percent in the first quarter of the year.
“We don’t expect a real (change). The Troika admits making a mistake, and at the same time advocates the implementation of that mistake,” Tsipras said, speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of European anti-austerity groups in Athens. “Although (Greece’s) lenders admit the program’s flaws, the premier’s insistence on implementing the catastrophic memorandum shows that he is out of touch with reality,” the anti-bailout party said in a statement.
It added that the IMF admission was a “vindication for SYRIZA,” which opposes the austerity measures, as did Samaras, until he got into power in a brief coalition government last year and then was elected, changing his mind to support the conditions he had criticized. “Samaras’s talk of ‘success story’ has become the briefest joke,” the party said.
Tsipras also told the Associated Press that bailout lenders and Greece’s conservative government would not end the country’s “ongoing drama” because they want to save face as much as possible. He made his remarks ahead of a visit of Troika envoys this week who are going to review progress on the reforms that the IMF said failed but which it and the EU and ECB will keep pushing.
In a report this week, the IMF admitted mishandling the start of the bailout program in 2010, for failing to tackle private debt restructuring early enough and overestimating the capacity of governments in Greece to swiftly push through public sector and market reforms neglected for decades.
Touching off a public spat with Brussels, the report also blamed the EU for the “notable mistakes.” Samaras, on a two-day visit to Finland, insisted that Greece remained committed to meeting its ambitious deficit reduction targets, and argued that past errors in the bailout program had been corrected.
“This admission by the IMF … provides a very significant reason for the Greek government to stop the program immediately,” Tsipras countered. “The Greek prime minister no longer just shares the responsibility but he carries the burden for leading the Greek people into this ongoing drama,” Tsipras told AP.
Cost-cutting reforms have battered Greece’s economy, pushing up poverty to levels not seen in decades and unemployment to around 27 percent. Speaking later at the Athens meeting, Tsipras argued that Greece had served as a model for European politicians determined to dismantle the welfare state.
“Greece was the guinea pig for this historic change. And it was tried out with full force: cancelling the social pact, destroying social welfare and selling off the country’s entire productive capacity. Now that experiment is ready for export to the rest of Europe.”
Samaras’ year-old conservative-led coalition has promised a return to growth and international bond markets next year, arguing that the harsh austerity measures agreed in exchange for the bailout loans are finally working.