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Greek ministerial couple step down after housing subsidy scandal

Two government ministers have resigned in quick succession after public outcry over a Cabinet housing allowance. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is set to find replacements for the affluent married couple. Greece's economy and development minister has resigned hours after his wife quit as deputy labor minister in response to a housing stipend row. Dimitri Papadimitriou handed in his resignation to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Monday night "for reasons of political sensitivity," an Economy Ministry official told Reuters news agency. Papdimitriou's wife, Rania Antonopoulou, stepped down after Greek media reported she had accepted a €1,000 ($1,200) monthly housing allowance for an apartment she shared with Papdimitriou in an expensive Athens neighborhood. Read more: Greece secures billions as bailout enters final stages Antonopoulou was eligible to apply for the allowance as a cabinet member whose primary residence was outside of Athens. The couple's main home is in the US, where they had been working as scholars before joining the Greek government in 2015 and 2016. Despite the absence of any wrongdoing, the disclosure sparked national criticism. Greece is recovering from a severe financial crisis and a third of the population lives in poverty. US tax filings from 2015 showed that Antonopoulou owned $340,000 and Papadimitriou around $2.7 million worth of stocks. Read more: Greeks stuck in lousy, part-time jobs as government claims success "It was never my intention to insult the Greek people," Antonopoulou said, adding that she would return around €23,000 drawn from the housing allowance over two years. The government said it would end the housing allowance. Tsipras is also reportedly set to reshuffle his Cabinet on Thursday to fill the two vacant posts. Papadimitriou was responsible for attracting foreign investment to Greece and Antonopoulou worked on reducing unemployment. Read more: Greek firms paying employees with coupons

Two government ministers have resigned in quick succession after public outcry over a Cabinet housing allowance. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is set to find replacements for the affluent married couple. Greece’s economy and development minister has resigned hours after his wife quit as deputy labor minister in response to a housing stipend row. Dimitri Papadimitriou handed in his resignation ... Read More »

Greek PM Tsipras threatens to block EU refugee decisions if left alone in crisis

Greek PM Alexis Tsipras has said he will block all EU migrant decisions if his country has to deal with the crisis alone. His comments come as Austria and West Balkan states decide to tighten their borders to migrants. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has said he will block all decisions at an upcoming EU migration summit if his country has to deal with the refugee crisis alone. Tsipras said that from now on Greece "will not assent to agreements" unless all its EU partners are forced to participate in the relocation and resettlement of refugees. "Greece will not agree to deals [in the EU] if a mandatory allocation of burdens and responsibilities among member countries is not secured," he added. "We will not accept turning the country into a permanent warehouse of souls with Europe continuing to function as if nothing is happening," Tsipras told the Greek parliament on Wednesday. Hundreds of Afghans are currently stranded in Greece after Macedonia decided to close its borders to refugees earlier this week. Tsipras said it was unfair that EU partners had dumped the burden of the migrants on Greece, a country already reeling from an economic crisis. "We did and will continue to do everything we can to provide warmth, essential help and security to uprooted, hounded people," he said, adding that Athens would not accept a situation where EU member states could do as they pleased. 'We will not tolerate fences and walls' The Greek prime minister's comments came as Austria and nine other countries met for a West Balkan conference on Wednesday, after individually deciding to restrict the flow of refugees into their countries. Neither Greece nor Germany was invited to the summit. "We will not tolerate that a number of countries will be building fences and walls at the borders without accepting even a single refugee" Tsipras said, adding that his country would demand the mandatory participation of EU countries in the relocation of refugees. Tsipras also said he would meet leaders from Greece's political parties to discuss tackling the number of migrants stranded in the country. EU leaders are scheduled to meet next week to fix plans on resolving the crisis. Earlier Wednesday, Tsipras also spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and agreed on a stronger crackdown on human smugglers in the Aegean Sea to reduce the migrant flow.

Greek PM Alexis Tsipras has said he will block all EU migrant decisions if his country has to deal with the crisis alone. His comments come as Austria and West Balkan states decide to tighten their borders to migrants. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has said he will block all decisions at an upcoming EU migration summit if his country ... Read More »

Greek farmers threaten to escalate austerity protests

Protesting planned pension cuts, Greek farmers have blocked key roads and border crossings with their tractors for weeks. Now they're threatening to stage a blockade of the government district in downtown Athens. Traveling by road to Greece's Peloponnes peninsula can be trying these days. Farmers have blocked the bridge on the Corinth canal with tractors for the past 18 days, forcing drivers to detour on rarely used country roads. Only ambulances and pregnant women are granted passage; trucks piled high with goods must turn back or take the rural route. On Tuesday, tractors also closed off the four-lane highway at Tempi Valley, near Thessaloniki, Greece's second-largest city. The farmers plan to continue their protest until the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras deals with their demands, which include canceling planned pension cuts, abolishing a new tax on wine and tsipouro brandy, and granting tax-free diesel for farmers - as well as a 12,000-euro ($13,400) tax exemption per year. Roadblocks at various checkpoints along Greece's border with Bulgaria have made international headlines. Witnesses report that trucks were backed up for 25 kilometers (15 miles) on the Greek side on Friday. Bulgarian shipping companies reported losing millions of euros. In the early morning hours of Tuesday, several truck drivers from Bulgaria tried to break through the blockade from the Greek side of the border. "Five trucks barged through the crowds," a farmer told Greece's Skai TV broadcaster. "They broke through the toll gate and almost seriously injured our colleagues." Witnesses later said that four trucks had managed to break through the roadblock but police managed to deter the fifth driver. Powerful lobby Agriculture contributes 4.5 percent to Greece's gross domestic product - not a huge amount, but significantly more than the EU average of 2.9 percent. The Greek farmers' lobby is traditionally strong. Government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili repeatedly mentioned an alleged "destabilization plan" that includes conservative unionists - presumably a reference to the fact that farmers are seen as loyal supporters of Greece's New Democracy opposition party. The economic analyst Panagiotis Bousbourellis said the main reason for the farmers' uprising lay less in lobbying and more in the devastating consequences of the upcoming pension cuts. "In 2015, the farmers paid more than 400 million euros into the pension system - and from now on, they're expected to pay three times as much," Bousbourellis told DW. "That won't work, in particular because 600,000 people can't even pay their social security contributions anymore." Ever since capital transactions controls were introduced in June, the number of insurance payments made on time dropped by a third, Bousbourellis said. At the same time, the government is determined to raise social security contributions as far as possible in order to avoid cutting pensions. "It's a plan that doesn't add up," he warned. Undeterred, many farmers plan to continue their protest with a mass demonstration Friday in downtown Athens. It remains to be seen whether they will actually ride their tractors all the way to parliament. Government spokeswoman Gerovasili made it clear that tractors are not allowed in downtown Athens, adding that the police would react accordingly. Details of the operation aren't expected until the last minute: Greeks don't usually announce or apply for permission for public gatherings far in advance. The farmers' associations aren't unanimously convinced of the wisdom of converging on the capital. The northern farmers would prefer to continue their roadblocks at border crossings and tollbooths over the weekend, but farmers from the south and west of the country have opted to move on Athens. "I'm uneasy," the analyst Bousbourellis said. "I don't expect tractors to show up, but I'm worried about how the government and the police will react to an explosive protest."

Protesting planned pension cuts, Greek farmers have blocked key roads and border crossings with their tractors for weeks. Now they’re threatening to stage a blockade of the government district in downtown Athens. Traveling by road to Greece’s Peloponnes peninsula can be trying these days. Farmers have blocked the bridge on the Corinth canal with tractors for the past 18 days, ... Read More »

Tsipras marks year in office with vow to implement pension reform

Greek premier Alexis Tsipras has marked one year in office by telling supporters that his pension reform bill must go ahead. Rural waverers among his leftists are threatening to erode his coalition's three-seat majority. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told 4,000 supporters in Athens on Sunday that he was determined to make a pitch for pension reform, despite opposition from farmers, the self-employed and small firm proprietor who will be hit by higher contributions. The reform "must go ahead, it's necessary," said Tsipras, who intends to put the bill to parliament early next month. Tspiras' remarks came on the eve of Monday's one-year anniversary of the election victory of his leftist Syriza party, a year marked by dramatic negotiations with Brussels over Greece's future in the eurozone and unprecedented arrivals of refugees, mainly from war-torn Syria, headed for Western Europe. Pension reform sought by bailout lenders The pension bill is designed to save 1.8 billion euros ($1.7 billion) this year, and is crucial for the first review of Greece's EU-led bailout by international lenders, who have also pressed for tax overhauls. Tsipras has vowed, however, not to trim pensions from current levels, saying they had "already been cut by 40 percent" by previous Greek governments under pressure from key lenders such as the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Farmers, who three years ago hailed Tsipras as an opposition politician, are now widely critical because their payments into Greece's insurance scheme could triple. "He lied, he imposed more taxes than all the others put together," Yiorgos Kostakiopoulos, a wheat and cotton grower, told Reuters on Saturday. "He was here with us, told us that he would fight with us for a dignified income for us and our children," said the father of three. Greece's Labor Ministry recently claimed that many farmers were under-declaring their incomes, leaving the state to top up their pensions by up to 90 percent. Already, as part of broader reforms, fuel subsidies have been slashed and taxes on fertilizer and animal feed increased. Political analyst George Sefertzis told AFP that Tsipras was now facing an uncertain negotiating outcome - exactly what happened to his conservative predecessor Antonis Samaras in his final six months of power in 2014. Dramatic year Tspiras's emerged as Syriza's stalwart in January 2015, vowing a debt revolution. Months of dramatic negotiations with Brussels were followed by re-election in September, again as head of a coalition with the nationalist Independent Greeks (ANEL) party, but minus radical Syriza dissenters. In those months, Greece was nearly evicted from the eurozone. The latest surveys show Greece's right-wing opposition resurging in voter support. Tsipras has 153 lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament, but Syriza waverers have threatened to erode that three-seat lead to press the views of small-scale farmers. Europe transformed: Tspiras On Sunday, Tspiras claimed that his government's struggle with Brussels had brought long-lasting change to the EU. "Europe is no longer the same," he said, referring to recent anti-austerity swings in electoral sentiment in Spain, Italy and Portugal. At the height of last year's highly public Greece-EU row, Tspiras argued that debt-swamped Greece would never recover if bailout lenders forced it to just make spending cuts and hike taxes, without investments. In July, Tsipras ousted his outspoken Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and signed another rescue package worth 86 billion euros coupled with spending cuts. On Friday, Standard and Poor's raised its credit rating for Greek debt by one notch - up to B- from CCC+, removing Greece from default vulnerability.

Greek premier Alexis Tsipras has marked one year in office by telling supporters that his pension reform bill must go ahead. Rural waverers among his leftists are threatening to erode his coalition’s three-seat majority. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told 4,000 supporters in Athens on Sunday that he was determined to make a pitch for pension reform, despite opposition from ... Read More »

Greece’s conservatives choose reformer to lead

The conservative New Democracy party has voted in no-nonsense reformer Kyriakos Mitsotakis as its new leader. The Harvard-educated economist is expected to challenge Greece's charismatic Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. "We have one purpose. To express all the forces that stand against the populism of an incompetent government," Mitsotakis told supporters as he arrived at his political headquarters in Athens. The party announced Mitsotakis' victory after 70 percent of the nationwide vote was counted, with the new leader claiming 51 percent of the vote to former parliament chief Vangelis Meimarakis' 49 percent. The final result of the vote is expected on Monday. Mitsotakis has said he plans to realign the party towards the political center, although he said not ruled out working with the Mediterranean country's national right-wing faction. The son of a former Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis and sister of former Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, the New Democracy party leader has shrugged off criticism that he made significant political gains through his family connection. 'Against populism' A staunch critic of leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' policies, Mitsotakis says he champions "common sense against populism." "I guarantee that we will soon create a center-right government that will give Greece a reliable alternative solution in government," Mitsotakis told the Greek daily Kathimerini a day ahead of the vote. The New Democracy party has been without an elected leader since July, when former party chief Antonis Samaras resigned abruptly. The move left Meimarakis in charge. Mitsotakis served as Greece's administrative reform minister from 2013 to 2015, marking the first and only ministerial the economist has held to date.

The conservative New Democracy party has voted in no-nonsense reformer Kyriakos Mitsotakis as its new leader. The Harvard-educated economist is expected to challenge Greece’s charismatic Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. “We have one purpose. To express all the forces that stand against the populism of an incompetent government,” Mitsotakis told supporters as he arrived at his political headquarters in Athens. The ... Read More »

Alexis Tsipras sworn in as Greek prime minister

Leftist leader Alexis Tsipras has been sworn in as Greece's prime minister for the second time in nine months. His anti-austerity Syriza party won the parliamentary vote, albeit without securing a majority. Tsipras took a civil oath on Monday, pledging to "uphold the constitution and laws" of the southern European country, struggling with a protracted debt crisis. Syriza received 35.5 percent of the votes in the snap elections, whereas the conservative New Democracy party got 28. Only 57 percent of the electorate cast votes - the lowest turnout in recent Greek history. To achieve the absolute majority necessary to govern - having fallen six seats short at 145 spots - Tsipras plans to form a coalition government with the small right-wing Independent Greeks party, which polled less than 4 percent of the vote. Tsipras is expected to name his cabinet ministers on Wednesday. Merkel's phone call to Tsipras German Chancellor Angela Merkel telephoned the Greek leader on Monday to congratulate him on his victory. "The Chancellor and Alexis Tsipras exchanged views on the forthcoming special meeting of the European Council on Wednesday and on the bilateral issues to be discussed … and agreed on cooperating closely on the European policy issues," read a statement released by the German government. Earlier on Monday, the European Union also congratulated Tsipras on winning the elections, but said Greece should waste no time in implementing economic reforms attached to its international bailout. "The Commission congratulates Alexis Tsipras for his victory," European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters in Brussels. "The new government will now have the mandate to carry out those reforms ... There is a lot of work ahead and no time to lose." Tsipras on migrants The Greek leader criticized the European Union's handling of the ongoing refugee crisis after taking his oath of office and urged all member states to share the responsibility. "Greece is a first reception country, and Europe has unfortunately not taken steps to protect reception countries from a [migration] wave which has taken on uncontrolled dimensions," he said. "There is a need ...that Europe deal with a global, a European problem and share the responsibility among all member states." Thousands of people are fleeing a civil war in Syria and heading to Europe via the Mediterranean. The arrival of these refugees has sparked major upheaval in Europe, with many governments imposing strict border checks to impede and manage the overflow of migrants. EU leaders were due to discuss the crisis at an extraordinary summit on Wednesday.

Leftist leader Alexis Tsipras has been sworn in as Greece’s prime minister for the second time in nine months. His anti-austerity Syriza party won the parliamentary vote, albeit without securing a majority. Tsipras took a civil oath on Monday, pledging to “uphold the constitution and laws” of the southern European country, struggling with a protracted debt crisis. Syriza received 35.5 ... Read More »

Greece: Far-left lawmakers defect from Tsipras’ Syriza party ahead of possible polls

A group of 25 members of Greece's governing Syriza party have broken off to form their own group in parliament. The lawmakers had defied a call by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to back Greece's third financial bailout. With its 25 seats, the new parliamentary group, to be called "Popular Unity," is the third largest in the Greek parliament, after Syriza with 124 seats and the conservative New Democracy party, with 76 in the 300-seat legislature. The new parliamentary group, made up of far-left former members of the already far-left Syriza party, is to be led by the former energy minister, Panagiotis Lafazanis (pictured above). The 25 lawmakers announced the move in a letter to parliament on Friday, a day after Alexis Tsipras used a televised address to announce that he was stepping down as prime minister. "I wish to be fully frank with you. We did not achieve the agreement that we were hoping for before the January elections," Tsipras said, referring to Greece's third international bailout worth 86 billlion euros ($96 billion). "But ... (the agreement we have) was the best anyone could have achieved. We are obliged to observe this agreement, but at the same time we will do our utmost to minimize its negative consequences," he said. Tsipras' resignation, coupled with the defection of a large chunk of his parliamentary group, meant that Greece appeared set to head into its fifth general election in the space of six years. However, in a bid to avoid early polls, the country's president, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, on Friday asked the leader of the second party, Evangelos Meimarakis to try to put together a coalition government. Recent opinion polls indicate that if the president does wind up calling a fresh election, Tsipras and Syriza are likely to win again, although not with the majority that they took in the January polls, when they ran on a platform of rejecting the sort of austerity measures that they wound up agreeing to in Greece's third bailout.

A group of 25 members of Greece’s governing Syriza party have broken off to form their own group in parliament. The lawmakers had defied a call by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to back Greece’s third financial bailout. With its 25 seats, the new parliamentary group, to be called “Popular Unity,” is the third largest in the Greek parliament, after Syriza ... Read More »

IMF won’t join new Greek bailout for now

The International Monetary Fund has said it would not participate in a new bailout for the debt-stricken eurozone nation until Athens and its creditors take difficult decisions on debt relief and economic reforms. The Washington-based lender said Thursday it would not join a new bailout program for Greece until conditions for debt sustainability, including debt relief and economic reforms, were clearly assured. Briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, a senior official at the Fund said that Greece needed to commit to reforms and creditors must provide debt relief - either in the form of extending loan terms or reducing the debt outright - that would allow the highly-indebted country to pay its bills over time. "There is a need for difficult decisions on both sides... difficult decisions in Greece regarding reforms, and difficult decisions among Greece's European partners about debt relief," the IMF official said. The official added that the IMF could only support a financial rescue program "that is comprehensive." He also noted that detailed plans for debt relief would not come for some months during the current first stage of developing the new plan. "They want to see implementation of the policies before they are willing to discuss debt relief in the necessary details," he said, referring to the IMF board members. Nevertheless, the IMF continues to participate in ongoing debt talks. The fund has said Greece's debts are likely to rise to 200 percent of its economic output in the next two years, a burden the fund calls unsustainable. Tsipras challenges critics In Athens, meanwhile, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has warned the members of his Syriza party's central committee that the government could fall if not supported by its leftist deputies. "The first leftist government in Europe after World War II is either supported by leftist deputies, or it is brought down by them because it is not considered leftist," Tsipras said, addressing the party's central committee meeting Thursday. The party members were meeting to settle differences over whether the government should accept a third bailout from its international creditors. The deepening crisis within Syriza is the most serious political challenge to Tsipras, who otherwise enjoys unrivaled domination of Greek politics and remains popular despite his sudden U-turn to accept stringent bailout terms.

The International Monetary Fund has said it would not participate in a new bailout for the debt-stricken eurozone nation until Athens and its creditors take difficult decisions on debt relief and economic reforms. The Washington-based lender said Thursday it would not join a new bailout program for Greece until conditions for debt sustainability, including debt relief and economic reforms, were ... Read More »

Tsipras proposes referendum to heal Syriza rift over Greece bailout terms

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has called for his divided Syriza party to hold a snap referendum to overcome the divisions. Ructions appeared within the party following Greece's agreement with creditors this month. Addressing Syriza's central committee on Thursday, Tsipras called for Syriza to hold an emergency congress next month, adding, however, that a referendum as soon as Sunday would be acceptable if leftist dissenters demanded a quicker solution. "I propose to the central committee to hold an emergency congress to discuss being in power as leftists, our strategy in the face of bailout conditions," he told the 200-strong decision-making Syriza committee. "But there is another view, which is respected, that doesn't accept the government's analysis and believes there was an alternative available in the early morning hours of July 13," the Greek prime minister said, referring to the day he accepted the bailout agreement to avoid a Greek eurozone exit. Tsipras is believed, however, to be in favor of an emergency congress, as this would enable him to bring in new Syriza members and take advantage of the wider public support he has achieved over the past two years. Far-left revolt Tsipras' proposals on Thursday came amid mounting rebellion among Syriza's far-left lawmakers. They accuse the party of betraying its anti-austerity roots by agreeing to the conditions of the country's 86 billion euro ($94 billion) bailout deal. Earlier this month, over 30 Syriza lawmakers refused to vote for reforms which are necessary for Greece to receive the financial aid. Included in the tough measures are wide-ranging market reforms, numerous spending cuts and tax increases. Tsipras defended the government's decision to agree to the creditors' conditions, however, saying that a "Grexit would have forced Greece into devaluation and returning to [the] IMF for support." "We were forced to compromise and accept a recessionary program that was not our choice," he added.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has called for his divided Syriza party to hold a snap referendum to overcome the divisions. Ructions appeared within the party following Greece’s agreement with creditors this month. Addressing Syriza’s central committee on Thursday, Tsipras called for Syriza to hold an emergency congress next month, adding, however, that a referendum as soon as Sunday would ... Read More »

Is Germany preparing for a temporary Grexit?

Germany's finance minister has prepared to call for Greece to leave the eurozone for at least five years, a paper reported. The news comes as Athens tries to convince creditors that it can make good on reform promises. In a position paper obtained by the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung" (FAS), German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has proposed that Athens either vastly improve its bailout-linked reform plan or take a five-year "time-out" from the eurozone, the paper wrote in an article made available ahead of publication on Sunday. The position paper, which Schäuble sent to the other eurozone countries on Saturday, reportedly criticizes the latest round of reform proposals offered by the government of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, saying they fail to address "vitally important reform areas to modernize the country and to boost economic growth and sustainable development in the long term," FAS said. A spokesperson for the German Finance Ministry would not comment on the FAS report. The German proposal reportedly concludes that Tsipras' latest proposals cannot serve as the basis for the new three-year loan Athens wants. Schäuble offers two alternative paths for proceeding forward: either Greece makes some swift and comprehensive changes to its proposals, or allow Greece to leave the eurozone for at least five years and restructure its debt. For the former solution, Schäuble suggested that Greece could, for example, transfer 50 billion euros ($56 billion) worth of assets to a trust that could be sold to reduce the nation's debt. If they opted for the second suggestion, Schäuble reportedly wrote that they could combine the five-year "Grexit" with "growth-enhancing, humanitarian and technical support" from the European Union. The Greek government was skeptical of the report, however. In a tweet from Alexis Tsipras' office, Athens said the FAS report "is completely denied." On the same day the position paper leaked, Greece's new finance minister, Euclid Tsakalotos, was locked in talks with creditors, trying to persuade them that the Greek government can be trusted to deliver on reform promises just a few hours after a majority in the Greek parliament threw its support behind the latest proposals. The other 18 members of the eurozone, however, implied that it would take more than a 13-page list of reform commitments to secure a third bailout worth billions of euros.

Germany’s finance minister has prepared to call for Greece to leave the eurozone for at least five years, a paper reported. The news comes as Athens tries to convince creditors that it can make good on reform promises. In a position paper obtained by the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung” (FAS), German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has proposed that Athens either vastly ... Read More »

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