Greek crisis: Papandreou promises referendum on EU deal

 
Prime Minister George Papandreou delivers a speech to the Greek Socialist party (31 Oct 2011) Prime Minister George Papandreou says he will respect the will of the Greek people

Greece will hold a referendum on a new European Union aid package intended to resolve the country's debt crisis, Prime Minister George Papandreou says.

Last week eurozone leaders agreed on a 100bn-euro loan (£86bn; $140bn) to Athens and a 50% debt write-off, in a effort to tackle the euro crisis.

But there have been large-scale protests in Greece against austerity measures demanded by the EU.

Analysts say a referendum could derail the wider deal on the euro debt crisis.

The Greek rescue package is a key part of the agreement reached last week after marathon talks between eurozone leaders.

They said banks holding Greek debt accepted a 50% loss, the eurozone bailout fund will be boosted to about 1tn euros and banks will have to raise more capital.

The Greek plan has rattled the financial markets.

The FTSE 100 in London opened 2.2% lower, the Dax in Frankfurt fell 3.5% and the Cac-40 in Paris dropped 3.4%.

This came in the wake of sharp falls on Monday, when the main European indexes closed lower by around 3%.

In Asia on Tuesday, the main indexes in Japan, Hong Kong and Australia all closed down by at least 1.4%.

'Final say'

Latest Planned Austerity Measures

  • New pay and promotion system covering all 700,000 civil servants
  • Further cuts in public sector wages and many bonuses scrapped
  • Some 30,000 public sector workers suspended, wages cut to 60% and face lay off after a year
  • Wage bargaining suspended
  • Monthly pensions above 1,000 euros to be cut 20% above that threshold
  • Other cuts in pensions and lump-sum retirement pay
  • Tax-free threshold lowered to 5,000 euros a year from 8,000

Opinion polls in Greece show that most people do not support the austerity deal.

Mr Papandreou told a meeting of his governing Socialist party that Greek people would have the final say on the package, which is designed to reduce Greek debt by about 100bn euros.

"The command of the Greek people will bind us", he was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.

He set no date for the referendum, but indicated that it would be held after details of the deal have been finalised with the EU and the country's creditors.

It is a big gamble for Mr Papandreou, who will argue that it is in Greece's national interest to support the deal, the BBC's Europe editor Gavin Hewitt reports.

But our correspondent says that many people in Greece say they prefer the chaos of default to years of hardship.

The junior party in Germany's governing coalition has criticised the referendum plan.

The parliamentary leader for the Free Democrats, Rainer Bruederle, said a No vote would mean the Greek government was declaring bankruptcy.

"This sounds to me like someone is trying to wriggle out of what was agreed - a strange thing to do," he told the Deutschlandfunk radio network.

Analysis

It is a big gamble by the Greek prime minister.

He will argue that it is in Greece's national interest to support the deal.

Without it, he will say, the country faces default and catastrophe.

He will base his campaign on an appeal to patriotism.

But on recent visits I have found many people would prefer the chaos of default to years of hardship.

The referendum is another hurdle for the eurozone to get over, says the BBC's Matthew Price, in Brussels.

It comes at a bad time for the eurozone and those who hoped the crisis was being contained, he adds.

Last Friday, there were protests in several cities around Greece.

An important annual parade was cancelled in Thessaloniki after demonstrators blocked the route and shouted insults at President Karolos Papoulias.

Socialist dissenters

Many Greeks believe the government has gone too far in allowing the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to dictate the austerity measures needed to secure the bailout.

Mr Papandreou has also faced growing dissent from within his own Socialist party over the impact of the measures.

The party's approval ratings have plunged and its parliamentary majority has been cut by several defections to other groups.

Eurozone deal key points

Greek debt

Private banks holding Greek debt will accept a write-off of 50% of their returns

Bailout fund

Bailout fund set up earlier this year to be boosted from the 440bn to 1tn euros

Banks

European banks will be required to raise about 106bn euros in new capital by June 2012

Analysts say the promise of a referendum allows Mr Papandreou's government, which has born the brunt of public anger over the austerity measures, to pass responsibility for the country's future to the Greek public.

"The new agreement will be submitted to parliament for approval and then submitted to the judgment of the Greek people," Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos told the Antenna TV channel.

"The Greek people can, of course, say no but must bear in mind the consequences of that decision."

Opposition parties said the government had only announced the referendum to avoid having to call an early general election.

"The prime minister is trying to buy time," said Costas Gioulekas from the right-of-centre New Democracy party.

"We want clear solutions. And a clear solution is obvious: elections."

 

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  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 574.

    I do not believe that greece will vote no..
    here in greece there is a lot of anger for the politicians that are responsible for the almost 30 years of amateur goverment..
    ..yes, the problem was born here, we ought to pay for it,...
    ....papandreou "has already lost the game"...
    ...it is not time for referendums..why referendum now..?...
    now its time for work ......

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 567.

    Finally, is the beginning of getting this over with so we can all move on , the sooner its done ,the better in my opinion, it always was inevitable, we can all still carry on trading, paid in euros, francs, marks or Drachmas its all money, and better still you can spend it down the shops !

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 561.

    I see no prospect for Greece other than to cut it loose from the EU entirely. They were better on their own, poor and happy. All I see around me now is the result of greed, it's not nice. One restauranteer said to me yesteday, 'back to the fifties we were not as poor as we are going to be now'. Well at least they will be left with a nice airport, metro system and national highways.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 550.

    Papandreou has put the Greek finger on the Eurozone nuclear button and they will push it.

    There will be a dramatic but ultimately necessary unravelling of the Eurozone project.

    The UK must look to protect itself and develop markets elsewhere.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 548.

    The timing of Mr Papandreou's announcement is interesting. Today is a national holiday in several EU countries incl. Portugal, Spain, Italy, France and parts of Germany. Are most of the European bourses closed today? It is as if the timing was carefully selected so that the impact on the European markets would be as soft as possible. Maybe this all was planned in last week's EU summit?

 

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