Greece is running out of friends in the European Union.
As Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras faces workers protesting creditor demands for labor reform and new austerity measures, his key allies in southern Europe are fading from the political scene — Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi resigned after a crushing referendum defeat and French President Francois Hollande has said he won’t seek a second term.
Renzi and Hollande have backed Tsipras’s calls against austerity as well as demands for more support on the refugee front, with the three of them joining forces to hold the first summit of Europe’s Mediterranean countries in Athens in September. With extreme right-wing parties and populists rising across Europe, Greece may need the pro-European German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s backing more than ever.
“Greece will keep having fewer allies,” said Aristides Hatzis, a professor of law and economics at the University of Athens. “Merkel is our only ally at the moment but even Merkel has her own limits as German elections are nearing.”
As the International Monetary Fund demands even tougher measures from Tsipras, including a lower income-tax-free threshold and more pension savings, the Greek leader has fewer friends he can turn to. The measures demanded by the IMF are part of an ongoing review of the country’s latest bailout agreement. Failure to close the review would mean that Greek bonds won’t be eligible for the European Central Bank’s asset purchases program and a cash crunch that could derail a much-needed economic rebound next year.
The delay in finalizing the second review of Greece’s current bailout program, increasing demands by the euro area and the IMF for more reforms and austerity are taking a toll on Tsipras’s popularity. Greece’s main opposition New Democracy party got 32 percent of voting intentions, compared with 16 percent for the governing Syriza party in a University of Macedonia survey on Dec 1.
Greece’s public and private sector unions are staging protests in Athens on Thursday to oppose creditors’ demands for more reforms. A sticking point between Greece and the IMF is labor-market changes, including rules on collective dismissals and a new framework for collective bargaining, Deputy Finance Minister George Chouliarakis said Monday.
While the economy has begun a tentative recovery, the jobless rate still stands above 23 percent, the highest in Europe. Unemployment dropped slightly to 23.1 percent in September from 23.3 percent the month before, the country’s statistical service said Thursday.
“After all that has happened, everyone should be more moderate and a bit more flexible, including the IMF,” said Hatzis. “It’s not just about what is financially sound. With the obsession of the Greek government to find a solution for debt right now, the obsession of the IMF and the Europeans bound by their own political necessities, we’ve reached a dead end once more.”