Greek Parliament Backs Controversial Reforms



Greek lawmakers on Monday night passed a series of controversial economic reforms amid strikes and protests in the capital, Athens.

After hours of debate, lawmakers eventually backed the so-called omnibus bill with 154 voting in favor and 141 against.

Today’s vote marks the “end of a long and difficult cycle,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said.

“Everybody is aware that with the conclusion of the third review, we are one step before the end of the program and the final end of the memoranda.”

The enormous omnibus bill — which runs to more than 1,300 pages — contains a string of measures which needed to be passed for Greece to receive 6-7 billion euros of bailout funds later this month.

Athens hopes this will be the last such payment needed before the country exits its EU, IMF program in August.

Among the myriad reforms are changes to the way unions can call strikes, caps on some welfare payments plus measures to speed up foreclosures.

-Right to strike

Tsipras’ left-led coalition had been expected to carry the vote, but the debate took place amid a string of strikes and demonstrations which saw disruption to hospitals and flights, as well as public transport grinding to a halt in Athens.

Ferries were docked last week for 24 hours and some labor activists stormed ministry buildings, harangued officials and held noisy demonstrations outside Tsipras’ residence.

It is the changes to strike legislation which have particularly incensed labor unions. Greece has been repeatedly paralyzed by strike action in the near-decade since the country lurched into crisis.

Tsipras defended the bill’s provisions on industrial action, saying that the right to strike is not being abolished.

“The right to strike is a sacred conquest of the working class. It is neither abolished nor threatened by this government.”

-Riots

While parliament was voting on the bill, protesters clashed with riot police outside parliament.

Groups of protesters threw petrol bombs, paint, stones and pieces of marble against policemen standing in front of the Monument to the Unknown Soldier, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades. 

-Supervision beyond 2018

Last week, a Eurogroup source told the Athens – Macedonian News Agency the next Greek bailout tranche expected to be disbursed in late January, provided that 55 agreed-upon measures are undertaken by the Greek government by that time.

Thirty of those measures are expected to be implemented after Monday’s Greek parliament vote. The rest, non-parliamentary measures, will have to be agreed soon.

If all goes well, the lenders will conduct a positive report for the Eurogroup Working Group by Thursday, approving the end of the third bailout review, which will lead to the official Eurogroup decision to release the tranche at a Jan. 22 meeting.

However, in an interview published by Greek newspaper Kathimerini on Sunday, Thomas Wieser, outgoing president of the Eurogroup Working Group (EWG) hinted at future supervision of Greek economic affairs beyond the end of the bailout.

“If there is a further debt relief after the end of the program, then it is sensible to reach a further agreement,” he was quoted as saying.

Wieser was also reluctant to endorse the Greek government’s pledge of a clean exit and return to the markets in August.


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