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SYRIZA: 'For us, "structural reforms" are the fight against corruption and corporate tax evasion'

For more on SYRIZA, click HERE

[February 25, 2015 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Paul Mason, writing on the February 24 SYRIZA government letter to the Eurogroup, outlining the reforms it intends to carry out, comments: "As flagged before it looks like [the Greek government] will be allowed to carry out the humanitarian aspect of Syriza’s so-called Thessaloniki Programme – i.e. anti-poverty measures. This, plus one of the most aggressive anti-tax avoidance offensives ever planned in the western world, is the centrepiece of Yanis Varoufakis’ plan.

["If the Greek government is allowed to use €10bn in an earmarked fund to recapitalise the banks, then the issues that remain are ones that demarcate the radical left from the centre: privatisations, trade union rights, universal healthcare, pensions and the minimum wage...

["On pensions, limiting the Greek tradition of early retirement is going to require a 'guaranteed basic income' for the over 50s – a one-line promise but radical no less. Another promise – universal access to healthcare in a country where tens of thousands have lost it – would be a major reform." Read Mason's full article HERE.]

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February 24, 2015 -- SYRIZA’s Yiannis Bournous (pictured above), responsible for international matters, interviewed by Esquerda.net; translated by Revolting Europe, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal 

What assessment do you make of the February 20 agreement with the Eurogroup?

The document adopted at the Eurogroup gives Greece an extra four months to present a developed plan of structural reforms. The document gives us breathing space, both in terms of time and economic conditions.

Even if some of the considerations in the document can be dubbed ambiguous, politically and technically, the important thing is that we have cancelled the deal made by the previous government to impose new austerity measures – including a further  reduction of pensions, more tax increases on the working classes and the
middle class, cutting job protections and measures on housing evictions.

This is the first time a heavily indebted country has secured some slack, both financial and timewise, allowing us to breathe, thanks to what [Greek finance minister Yanis] Varoufakis called the “creative ambiguity” of its formulation. On the other hand, [German finance minister Wolfgang] Schäuble failed in his plan to stifle Greece on February 28 – which was the deadline for the [last tranche of "bail-out"] loans under the memorandum – and lead the country to a dead end without liquidity and then impose the conditions he wanted on the new government. Fortunately, the plan failed and we have a new discussion phase which will take four months.

Does this mean that the election promises have not been forgotten?

On February 23 [delayed until February 24] we will present a plan of structural reforms to our partners [see the text HERE]. But we do not understand the term “structural reforms” as the previous governments have. To us they mean that there will be no redundancies, cuts and austerity. Our structural reforms are to combat clientelism, corruption and tax evasion.

I must tell you that today we announced the conclusion of a judicial investigation made at the request of the anti-corruption minister. It led to the freezing of 404 million euros found in bank accounts of large investors and depositors who have failed to prove the lawful origin of the money.

This is the first practical sign of our determination to combat tax fraud, which besides being a reform that has no cost, makes large gains for the state [budget]. Of course, in addition to these structural reforms we also propose low- or no-cost measures to combat the humanitarian crisis. The first steps are being finalised and will be presented in the coming days. They deal for example with the restructuring of the private debt of heavily indebted households, small businesses and sole proprietors. This is a good indicator the part of our program that can be immediately applied is being carried out now.

Everyone knows that a negotiating process there are two sides of the table that have their positions.We do not underestimate the fact that at the beginning of the negotiations we were alone against 18 eurozone governments. The document approved on February 20 does not reflect such isolation. What these negotiations proved is that, in fact, there is room for negotiation policies put on the table. Before, there was no political discussion, only technical issues were discussed because everyone agreed with the line of austerity for Europe.

Today the scenario is different: a few days ago there was a declaration of 50 (not two or three, but 50) French Socialist deputies calling for Greece to have room to breathe and that we should think about a growth plan for Europe and the end austerity. Also within the party of [Italian PM Matteo] Renzi – and remember that the Italian public debt is 2.3 billion euros – we have heard similar voices. I believe they will also take advantage of the new situation, since a debt of this size is a bomb waiting to explode and Renzi does not want to be destroyed politically. I hope that these events serve to motivate the forces that oppose austerity to fight and to argue concretely an alternative plan.

What about the position of the governments of Portugal and Spain, which have suffered from austerity and were the fiercest opponents of [the February 28] agreement?

Politics has returned to the EU [negotiating] table. Not because of a temporary victory – as was the case 10 years ago with the rejection of the European Constitution in referendums in France and the Netherlands – but because finally a government has emerged that is saying different things.

It is natural to have strong political and ideological differences with the governments of the Portuguese and Spanish right. But we respect everyone’s opinions. It is more than clear that the super-austerity strategy has been an historic failure for Europe. I believe that all the steps taken now by the political intervention of the Greeks, every step we take towards growth and the improvement of living conditions of the people in European countries, will lead to a reassessment of policy priorities of some countries .

Do not forget that [Spanish PM Mariano] Rajoy and [Portuguese PM] Passos Coelho face their voters in November and September, respectively. Rajoy must have trouble sleeping with the “tick-tock” of the countdown, thanks to what he calls the “threat” of Podemos. We do not believe Podemos is a threat, it is really the next big step for hope for a new, sustained social plan for Europe.

It is true, although we know that they serve class interests and different economic interests to ours. For example, the Greek press says Rajoy was so concerned about the possibility of an agreement he told the Germans if they gave in to the demands of Alexis Tsipras he would not achieve more than 7% in the Spanish elections. They insist on the continuation of these policies not because they believe that they have brought positive results, but they do not want – especially before their elections – that this alternative we represent is seen as a concrete project that is advancing in Europe.

Polls in Greece show 4 out of 5 citizens support the government in the negotiations. Across Europe there were demonstrations and solidarity. What impact did they have and how should we [on the left] proceed?

I must confess that even for us, organised left militants, it was a great surprise to see so many people organise themselves in social networks and take to the streets, not against but in favour of the policies of a government! One of the polls published this week showed 47% would vote for Syriza today. We have received numerous messages of solidarity from many initiatives and organisations – both existing ones born during the crisis and those emerging after the Syriza victory. It was wonderful to see the photos and videos of demonstrations not only in Europe but even in the United States or Latin America. It was amazing and confirmed what we were saying before the elections: a victory of Syriza would have political and even social impact across Europe.

Now more and more European citizens realise that after all one can negotiate with Europe for a better future for their country. I believe that these initiatives will strengthen as the Greek government continues its dynamic and decisive role in the negotiations.

There is a political space that has opened and that can shift the political game of each country. With their differences, there is a window of hope that, with effective action by the left forces in each country, over time there can be specific policy successes, electorally and beyond. I am very optimistic about it.

Finally, why did Syriza propose a former minister of New Democracy party as president?

There were several factors that had to consider before making the decision about who to appoint. We must not forget that Syriza did not obtain an absolute majority, that it has a coalition partner and above all we living in an historic moment, not only for Greece but for the whole of Europe. That means we need to create the broadest unity in promoting an alternative against austerity. These were the main reasons for choosing Prokopis Pavlopoulos for the presidency.

In addition to being part of New Democracy, Pavlopoulos is also known for his academic merit in the area of ​​law and has distanced himself on many occasions with extremist measures and views, such as the property tax introduced by the defeated Samaras government. It is also important to note that currently on the political right there is a split between the more moderate political centre-right, who were sceptical of the super-austerity policies of the Samaras government, and the most extremist sector of New Democracy, led by Samaras himself. Thus the choice of Pavlopoulos served to show that we are willing to cooperate with all the forces that recognise the need for a drastic change of policy.

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Greece will cancel the privatisation of Piraeus

The Telegraph, Feb. 25 2015

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/11435649/Greece-to-stop-privatisations-as-Syriza-faces-backlash-on-deal.html


Greece's economy minister said the country will cancel the privatisation of Piraeus

By Ambrose Evans-­Pritchard, in Athens

7:52PM GMT 25 Feb 2015

Greece's Left­wing Syriza government has vowed to block plans to privatise strategic assets and called for sweeping changes to past deals, risking a fresh clash with the eurozone's creditor powers just days after a tense deal in Brussels.

"We will cancel the privatisation of the Piraeus Port," said George Stathakis, the economy minister. "It will remain permanently under state majority holding. There is no good reason to turn it into a private monopoly, as we made clear from the first day.

"The deal for the sale of the Greek airports will have to be drastically revised. It all goes to one company. There is no way it will get through the Greek parliament."

The new energy minister, Panagiotis Lafazanis, warned that Syriza will not sell the Greek state's 51pc holding of the electricity utility PPC, power grid ADMIE or state gas company DEPA. "There will be no energy privatisations," he said.

It is already becoming clear that Syriza's leadership does not accept a strict, minimalist reading of the Eurogroup text, and is relying on quiet assurances from Brussels and Paris that it has friends in the EU.

The defiant signals are making it harder for the German government to dampen criticism over the deal in the Bundestag before it votes on Friday. "Greece will not get a single penny until it complies with its obligations," said Germany's finance minister, Wolfgang Schauble.

Both the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank say the deal is too loose to pin down Syriza, allowing it to unpick elements of the EU­IMF Troika Memorandum. Mr Stathakis gave strong hints that this is indeed Syriza's intention. "The Eurogroup meetings went very well," he said, with a conspiratorial smile.

Yet the Syriza leadership risks falling between two stools as it tries chip away at the austerity regime without triggering Greece's ejection from the euro. A closed­door crisis meeting of the party at the Greek parliament erupted in an emotional storm, running for more than several hours as the group's Left Platform voiced their anger over the retreat in Brussels.

"A lot of Syriza MPs are very troubled by the deal and they are being pretty open about it. The fault lines are clear," said one MP, emerging for a shot of caffeine.

"We're in uncharted territory and we don't know how this is going to end. But there is a very strong sense that we should hold together come what may. We are not going to split," he told The Telegraph.

Premier Alexis Tsipras sought to rally the troops, assuring them that Syriza had not abandoned its "Thessaloniki Programme" for radical change or capitulated to EMU demands under threat of bankruptcy. Insisting that the document signed in Brussels gives Syriza scope to carry out its democratic revolution, he demanded that rebels stand up and "be counted" if they really mean to vote against the deal.

Syriza has already caused the Eurogroup to drop its demands for a bigger primary budget surplus, opening the way for its anti­poverty programmes. "The original 3pc goal for this year was catastrophic. It cannot be higher than 1.5pc of GDP," said finance minister Yanis Varoufakis after the meeting.

Mr Stathakis, a Marxist economist with a PhD from Newcastle University, denied claims by London banks that the Greek government could run out of cash within 15 days, saying the "institutions" ­ the euphemism for the defunct Troika ­ will let Greece tap some forms of funding long before any crunch.

"We have various buffers, including €3bn or €4bn at the Bank of Greece. We expect to be able to issue €2bn to €3bn in T­bills soon," he said. The ECB's support for Greek banks ­ curtailed two weeks ago ­ should be "back to normal" by mid­March.

Choosing his words carefully, he said that the airport privatisation deal could be reopened because it was "not completed", making it clear that Syriza may rewrite the terms of any state sale in the pipeline. An existing investment deal with the Chinese shipping group Cosco in Piraeus will be protected.

Diplomats in Athens have some sympathy for the Syriza view, confirming that many of the past deals were corrupt or tailored to the interests of powerful oligarchs. "These people 'own' the energy industry. The property sales and airports are a stitch­up, all going to the same small circle," said one veteran.

"We know exactly who the biggest smuggler of shipping fuel is, and why nothing has been done. He is very close to the previous government. Syriza are not part of this system and don't have 'cheques to pay back'."

Critics say there is no necessary reason why privatisation should boost the Greek economy or help to balance the budget, deeming it Troika ideology. The Pireaus Port, the lottery and other state holdings generate an income stream for the government.

It is clear that Syriza aims to test how much freedom of action it has. This guarantees a fresh fight at the end of April, when EMU inspectors will demand proof that reform legislation is being enacted and enforced, and an almost certain showdown in June when Syriza's four­month reprieve expires. It must then negotiate a third bail­out or face hostile markets alone.

"We're going to have four months of constant bickering and fighting with the EU institutions, and when we get to June we're going to face exactly the same blackmail over liquidity support, if not worse," said Costas Lapavitsas, a Syriza MP and an economist at London University.

"The deal was a partial victory, in that it bought time. Any other outcome last Friday would have been catastrophic. But there is no doubt in my mind that the Troika is setting the parameters, even if most of the party is still reluctant to learn this harsh lesson. We're wet behind the ears," he said.

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