Gov’t defends actions to wary European Commission

10 December 2016
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The government has defended its announcement on Thursday of a one-off payment to low-income pensioners and its suspension of a value-added tax increase on the islands of the northern Aegean in anticipation of reactions from Brussels, as the European Commission said on Friday that it was not fully aware of the details of the measures.

“The Commission was not made aware of all the details of the announcements before they were made,” a EC spokeswoman told reporters in Brussels on Friday, adding that the Commission was expected to study them before acting further.

However, the government appeared confident it could overcome any reactions from Brussels that could emerge during the ongoing negotiations to conclude the second review of Greece’s third bailout.

“It’s an expense that will in no way pose a threat to the primary surplus targets of 2016,” government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said on Friday, referring to the stipend for pensioners.

However, sources said that it was well aware that the measures, worth 617 million euros, may cause dismay in Brussels as it indeed had not been forewarned, but insisted that the situation is manageable.

“I don’t think there will be a problem, they [the Commission] also understand the endurance levels of the government and the people,” an aide to the prime minister said,while other sources said the the suspension of the VAT hike would be far easier to defend before the jittery creditors.

Sources said that given the way Europe handled the refugee crisis, placing the largest burden on Greece, “the EU does not have the political capital to react.”

Meanwhile, the government also sought to dismiss speculation that the announcement made by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in his televised address was made with early elections in mind.

“When we planned these measures we in no way thought of early elections,” said Minister of State Alekos Flambouraris.

But opposition parties were quick to cite the timing of the announcement, which came as the government continues to struggle in seemingly never-ending negotiations with creditors.

Moreover, analysts point to the fact that Tsipras chose to make his announcement in a televised address rather than in Parliament, where the budget is being debated, in order to make a bigger PR splash.

As for the review, Tsipras aides say he will continue to press for its swift conclusion and will not accept anymore measures beyond 2018. “There is no way we will go back on our commitment,” Tzanakopoulos said, expressing optimism a deal will be struck without the extra measures.

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