Europe

Greece: MPs begin voting on confidence motion

  • 21 June 2011
  • From the section Europe
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Greece's parliament has begun voting on a motion of confidence in the government, part of the administration's battle to win support for new austerity measures.

The vote is a first step towards a vital 12bn euro ($17bn; £10bn) loan from the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Greece needs the loan to pay its debts.

If the government survives, Greece's parliament will be asked to back the latest spending cuts - of 28bn euros.

This vote will be held on 28 June.

A result is expected after 0035 local time (2235 GMT).

All the indications are that Mr Papandreou will win his vote of confidence with a handful of seats to spare, says the BBC's Malcolm Brabant in Athens.

But one former rebel MP who now plans to vote in favour of the government said the public's tolerance had been used up.

Panagiotis Kouroumplis also warned that politicians were increasingly losing touch with ordinary people demonstrating against the government across the country.

Thousands of protesters have again gathered in Syntagma Square in Athens, in front of the Greek parliament.

One protester, Calliope Iris, told the BBC: "The Greek police treat us like criminals. I used to have my own company and had to close it down at the beginning of 2010. The economic climate is forbidding anything new.

"I will continue to go back to Syntagma Square to protest."

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has said Greece faces a "moment of truth" when it votes next week on austerity measures.

The EU and IMF will only release funds once the austerity measures have been voted through.

"No-one can be helped against their will," Mr Barroso said in Brussels.

"Next week is the moment of truth, where Greece needs to demonstrate that it is genuinely committed to the ambitious package of further fiscal measures and privatisations put forward by Prime Minister [George] Papandreou's government."

Mass demonstrations

Tuesday's vote of confidence in the government follows the appointment of the new Greek cabinet, which Prime Minister Papandreou put in place last Friday.

Mr Papandreou hopes the new cabinet, and specifically the new Finance Minister, Evangelos Venizelos, will help secure parliament's backing for further austerity measures that are already proving deeply unpopular with the Greek people.

At the weekend, eurozone finance ministers decided to postpone their decision on whether to grant Greece the 12bn euro loan until the country introduced the additional spending cuts and privatisation programmes.

Greece needs this aid - the latest tranche of the EU and IMF's 110bn-euro aid package - by July to be able to keep up with payments to the creditors of its huge debts, which amount to 30,000 euros per person.

If the Greek parliament does back the austerity measures, eurozone finance ministers will meet again on 3 July, with the funds expected to be released by the middle of next month.

However, lawmakers are having to ponder their decision in the face of mass demonstrations, strikes, and even riots.

The latest protest against the cutbacks involves workers at Greece's state-owned electricity company, who are on a 48-hour walkout.

BBC Europe editor Gavin Hewitt, who is in Athens, says ministers have argued that without further austerity measures in exchange for a new bail-out, Greece is heading for bankruptcy. However, many Greeks appear to prefer that option to further austerity, he says.

Mr Venizelos said the decision of the eurozone finance ministers to delay the loan showed that urgent action was now needed. "We have plenty to do," he said.

If Greece were to default on its debt - worth 150% of its annual GDP output - it would have to leave the 17-member euro group of nations.

UK Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan said the bailout would not help the people of Greece: "This is not assistance for Greece, it's not how anyone there sees it. They understand perfectly well what the bail-out means, which is that the money will go to European bankers and bondholders, but the repayment will come from Greek taxpayers. So far from being helped, Greece is being sacrificed to save the euro."

IMF mission

On 20 June, EU finance ministers agreed in principle on a second bail-out package for Greece, about the same size as the first - 110bn euros - passed last May.

The new package, to be outlined by July, will include loans from other eurozone countries.

It is also expected to feature a voluntary contribution from private investors, who will be invited to buy up new Greek bonds as old ones mature.

Officials said this money had to be freely given, or it would be seen as technical default on Greece's debt repayments.

If Greece were to default - or seen to be in default - it would mean massive losses for European banks that hold Greek debt, including the European Central Bank.

Officials said the new plan was expected to fund Greece into late 2014 and total about 120bn euros.