Throwing Off Austerity's Hold in Greece, Syriza Pledges Allegiance to 'The Good of Society'

Greece Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras delivering his first speech at the parliamentary session of Syriza on Sunday, February 8, 2015. 'The bailout," he said, 'was first canceled by its very own failure and its destructive results.' (Photo: Kostis Ntantamis/Rex)

Throwing Off Austerity's Hold in Greece, Syriza Pledges Allegiance to 'The Good of Society'

'We realise that negotiations won’t be easy,' declated Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, 'but we have faith in our struggle, because justice is on our side.'

In a speech before the Greek Parliament on Sunday, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras made it clear that his Syriza government would not accept a continuation of the austerity measures imposed by outside forces as he formally announced Greece would refuse the next installment of a bailout package from foreign creditors. Instead, the newly-elected leader vowed, Greece would chart a new economic path ahead of upcoming negotiations that will put the ordinary people of Greece first ahead of bankers abroad and elite corruption at home.

"We only have one commitment: to serve the interests of our people, the good of society," Tsipras announced as he explained that accepting the next loan tranche, a loan of EUR7 billion, from the so-called Troika--composed of the European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund--would be tantamount to betrayal.

"We realise that negotiations [with foreign lenders] won't be easy," Tsipras declared, "but we have faith in our struggle, because justice is on our side."

"The bailout failed," Tsipras declared in his much-anticipated address, but said his government's decision to break with the Troika's economic perscription was not only because they oppose the austerity ideologically, but because the measures have failed to provide the gains which were promised to result. The policies, he said, have failed the Greek people by every measure. "The Greek people gave a strong and clear mandate to immediately end austerity and change policies," he said. "Therefore the bailout was first canceled by its very own failure and its destructive results."

"We see hope, dignity and pride returning to Greek citizens," Tsipras announced. "Our obligation and duty is not to disappoint them."

Going further, Tsipras also stressed that austerity is not just a problem for his country, but has been a misguided policy imposed on people across the continent.

"The problem is not just Greek," he said. "It never was. The crisis is not just Greek; it is European."

According to Reuters, Tsipras explained that "Greece would achieve balanced budgets but would no longer produce unrealistic primary budget surpluses, he said, a reference to requirements to be in the black excluding debt repayments."

As part of its analysis of the speech, the New York Timesreported:

[Tsipras] pledged to replace a hated unified property tax, which combines several levies, with a new tax on large property and to increase the tax-free threshold on annual income to EUR12,000 from the current EUR5,000. Cracking down on tax evasion and corruption were also underlined as priorities.

Immediate action will be taken, he said, to restore collective wage bargaining, bringing unions back into negotiations on workers' salaries and working conditions. He also pledged to gradually restore the minimum wage to EUR751 a month from EUR586.

As a jab at Germany, which has been leading the austerity drive in Europe, Mr. Tsipras said it was Greece's historical duty to seek war reparations and the repayment of a loan it was forced to make to Germany in World War II.

And the Guardian's Helena Smith added:

Syriza's pledges to the electorate include a freeze on pension cuts, a property tax overhaul, free electricity to those who have been cut off, reinstating jobs and raising the minimum wage. But it remains to be seen how quickly the measures are introduced - a phased approach could save the broke government money, officials have indicated.

In a separate gesture, Tsipras also said he would reopen ERT public television, which was closed in 2013 by the previous government to save money. ERT would be reopened to "repair a crime against Greek people and democracy", he said.

Tsipras's address came at the start of a big week for Greece's relations with Europe. On Wednesday, the Eurogroup of finance ministers will hold an emergency meeting on the Greek crisis. On Thursday, a full summit in Brussels will be attended by both Tsipras and Angela Merkel.

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