Greek politicians are debating an austerity bill ahead of a vote that will condemn the country to years of more budget savings, but is needed to get a desperately needed new bailout.
The raft of consumer tax increases and pension reforms has led to growing anger among Greece’s governing left-wing Syriza party, while the country’s civil servants’ union voiced its objections with a 24-hour public sector strike.
The vote will almost certainly see large numbers of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ own Syriza lawmakers dissent and vote against the package, raising questions of his government’s survival in its current form.
The Bill is expected to pass with votes in favour by pro-European opposition parties.
The government, a coalition between Syriza and the small right-wing Independent Greeks, holds 162 seats in Greece’s 300-member parliament. More than 30 of Syriza’s own politicians have publicly voiced objections.
Mr Tsipras has acknowledged the measures he agreed to after a marathon summit with eurozone leaders on Monday go against his election pledges to make life easier for Greeks, and described them in a Tuesday night television interview as “irrational”.
But he said he had no option if he was to prevent Greece’s financial collapse.
Talks on a bailout package worth €85bn over three years will start only if Greece’s government takes certain steps, including pushing through today’s bill.
The International Monetary Fund, which was involved Greece’s previous two bailouts and will also play a role in the third, has long advocated the country’s debt is too high and that any deal must include debt relief – something the Greek side has also insisted on.
In a report released late on Tuesday, the IMF said Greece’s debt was now “highly unsustainable” and would reach “close to 200% of GDP in the next two years”.
Mr Tsipras has faced strident dissent even from some of his top ministers, with Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis saying in a post on his ministry’s website that the deal the prime minister reached was “unacceptable” and calling on him to withdraw it.
The Bill was being passed through Parliament with emergency procedures and was being debated at committee level this morning before it heads to the full assembly in the evening.
The civil servants strike disrupted public transport and shut down state-run services across the country.
Pharmacies joined in with their own 24-hour strike to object to the austerity deal which will allow some non-prescription drugs to be sold by supermarkets.
Demonstrations were planned for this evening outside Parliament during the assembly debate.