ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek lawmakers launched a late-night debate Wednesday on further reforms demanded by international creditors in return for a third multi-billion-euro bailout, with attention focusing on government dissenters who have vowed to reject the measures.
Despite the revolt in Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s own party, parliament is expected to approve the draft legislation in a vote early Thursday — the second such crucial test in a week — again with broad support from pro-eurozone opposition parties. Failure to do so would derail the bailout and rekindle fears over Greece’s future in the shared euro currency.
As with last week’s vote, Tsipras’s main problem lies with hard-line lawmakers in his radical left Syriza party, many of whom see the reforms as a betrayal of the anti-austerity platform that brought them to power in January.
That sentiment was reflected by about 10,000 people who demonstrated outside parliament before the debate, protesting the latest measures, which will overhaul Greece’s judicial and banking sectors. Minor violence marred the end of the protest, when a few teenagers threw petrol bombs at riot police, but no injuries or arrests were reported.
Negotiations with creditors are expected to start soon after the latest package of reforms is approved. The government hopes the new bailout talks can conclude before Aug. 20, when Greece must repay a debt worth more than 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) to the European Central Bank.
On Wednesday, the ECB provided a new vital cash injection to Greece’s battered banks. A European banking official told The Associated Press the ECB decided to increase emergency liquidity to Greek banks by 900 million euros ($980 million) — the second such cash injection in just under a week.
Fearing a run by depositors flocking to take their savings out of Greek banks, the government imposed capital controls more than three weeks ago, restricting daily withdrawals to 60 euros ($65) per account holder. Extra ECB liquidity means that Greek banks will still be able to hand out cash.
Greece has relied on bailout loans totaling 240 billion euros since 2010 after it was locked out of international money markets. It nearly crashed out of the eurozone this month, after relations between Athens and its creditors hit rock-bottom, and was only saved by a last-minute U-turn from Tsipras.
Thursday’s pre-dawn vote is Tsipras’s second crunch test in parliament in a week. The reforms, included in a nearly 1,000-page bill, are among the prerequisites Greece’s European creditors have insisted upon in order for negotiations to begin on a third bailout for Greece worth around 85 billion euros ($93 billion).
Many in Tsipras’s Syriza party, including former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, voted against last week’s austerity measures, which included a big hike to sales taxes that took effect on Monday. If more than a handful of others join the dissent in Thursday’s vote, then Tsipras’s government could be in trouble.
At least five Syriza lawmakers said Wednesday they would vote against the draft law — including the firebrand parliament speaker, Zoe Konstantopoulou. In a letter to Greece’s president and Tsipras, Konstantopoulou asserted the measures were a “violent attack on democracy,” arguing that lawmakers had been given very little time to study the voluminous bill.
Tsipras has accused party critics of acting irresponsibly.
“I’ve seen a lot of reactions and heroic statements, but so far I haven’t heard any alternative proposal,” Tsipras told party lawmakers on Tuesday, according to a senior government official. The official asked not to be named, citing the sensitivity of the parliamentary vote.
Tsipras also said those supporting the country’s exit from the eurozone or handing out so-called IOUs to retirees “should come out and say it, instead of hiding behind the safety of my signature.”
The reforms being considered Wednesday are aimed at reducing the country’s court backlog and speeding up revenue-related cases. Lawmakers have also been called on to approve reforms related to banking union mechanisms, aimed at reducing the risk for European governments from bank crises.
In Brussels, Pierre Moscovici, the European Union’s top economy official, said he hopes the bailout deal can be signed by mid-August, although he acknowledged that means Greece has to meet a “punishing” schedule. Moscovici said he welcomed the latest vote even though it did not include all details hoped for on reducing early retirement and farmers’ taxation.
In return for Greece’s bailouts, successive governments have had to enact harsh austerity measures to try to get public finances into shape. Though the annual deficit has been reduced dramatically, the country’s debt burden has risen as the Greek economy has shrunk by around a quarter.
The European Union’s statistics agency announced Wednesday that Greece was making some progress on the debt front at the start of 2015, improvement that was largely erased by the bank closures and other recent events.
Following repayments to European creditors and the International Monetary Fund, Eurostat said Greece’s debt fell to 301 billion euros at the end of the first quarter from 317 billion at the end of 2014. That took the country’s debt burden down to 168.8 percent from 177.1 percent.
Greece’s debt still remains the highest in the 19-country eurozone by a wide margin.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.