Greece’s prime minister yesterday evening threw international efforts to save Greece’s economy into uncertainty by announcing that he will seek the support of parliament and the Greek public on whether to accept a support package agreed by the EU.
The vote of confidence in parliament will be held on Friday evening. The date of the referendum has not yet been set, with some suggesting a date in December and others a vote in January.
The main opposition party, the centre-right New Democracy party of Antonis Samaras, has criticised the move. Yiannis Michelakis, a spokesman for the party, quoted by Kathimerini, said Papandreou had “tossed Greece’s future in Europe in the air like a coin”. The Communists have accused Papandreou of blackmail.
Papandreou has reportedly been under pressure from members of his own centre-left party Pasok to find a response to persistent calls from New Democracy for early elections amid daily, widespread and sometimes violent protests.
Pasok, which started its electoral term in 2009 with 160 seats in the 300-seat parliament, has struggled to maintain its unity throughout the economic crisis. But the party united behind Papandreou in June when he called a vote of confidence linked with a package of austerity measures. The party also backed further cutbacks in October.
Papandreou’s gamble on public opinion currently looks more risky. The latest deal to support Greece has been poorly received, with one opinion poll quoted finding that 60% of Greeks viewed it as ‘negative’.
The agreement reached by eurozone leaders last Wednesday (27 October) would reduce Greece’s debt by 50% and make available an additional €130 billion in loans.
The wording of the referendum has not been announced, but Evangelos Venizelos, the finance minister, framed the issue more broadly. “Do Greeks want to remain in Europe, with the euro, in a country that belongs to the developed world, or do they want to return to the 60s? Do they think it is good to owe €100bn to the banks or do they not think it is good to live with such debt?”
In an early reaction from abroad, Alexander Stubb, Finland’s minister for Europe, said of the referendum that “basically it would be a vote over their euro membership”.
There is no indication that Papandreou raised the possibility of a referendum at the meeting of eurozone leaders last week.
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