Tsipras to form cabinet, push EU on migration after election win

September 22, 2015 9:13 am
Greece's Syriza leader and newly elected Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (L) is congratulated by President Prokopis Pavlopoulos after the oath-taking ceremony, in Athens on September 21, 2015  © AFP
Greece’s Syriza leader and newly elected Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (L) is congratulated by President Prokopis Pavlopoulos after the oath-taking ceremony, in Athens on September 21, 2015

, ATHENS, Sept 22 – Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is preparing Tuesday to unveil a new coalition cabinet to enact economic reforms after he called on Europe to help address the nation’s unfolding migration challenge.

Fresh from returning to office after Sunday’s election win, the 41-year-old on Monday said he wanted more solidarity in handling the flow of migrants and refugees through struggling Greece.

“Europe…must share out responsibility among all member states,” Tsipras said after his taking his oath of office.

“Otherwise there is no point in talking about a united Europe… if everyone looks to one’s own yard when we have a common home, things will be ominous,” he said.

As a torrential downpour swept Athens, Tsipras took his second oath of office in eight months and said a coalition government with the nationalist Independent Greeks party — his allies in the last cabinet — would be sworn in by Wednesday morning.

Later the same day he will travel to Brussels for a summit on the refugee crisis, where he will also represent Cyprus. Some 310,000 migrants and refugees have landed on Greek shores from Turkey this year, most of them Syrians fleeing their country’s civil war.

Greece itself has been criticised for making little preparation to deal with the human wave during the summer, leaving entire families sleeping in the open with little access to medical care and sanitation.

But Tsipras said Monday that “Europe until now had not taken care to protect countries of first arrival from a wave that is taking unchecked proportions.”

France, Germany, Spain and European Council president Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday pledged to help crisis-hit Greece, both on the economic front and in dealing with the worsening migrant crisis.

But EU partners too wasted no time in reminding Athens to get down to work on enforcing reforms set out in a rescue package worth up to 86 billion euros ($97 billion).

– ‘A lot of work ahead’ –

“There’s a lot of work ahead and no time to lose,” said Juncker. “As you know well, you can count on the European Commission and on me personally to stand by Greece and support the new government in its efforts.”

From buying a loaf of bread to a visit to the doctor, pain lies in store as the new government readies to raise taxes and rewrite the economic rule-book in line with tough reforms demanded by the country’s lenders in return for Greece’s third international rescue in five years.

The economic to-do list was signed in July by Tsipras in a controversial deal that alienated anti-euro hardliners who then quit his Syriza party, stripping the premier of his majority and triggering Sunday’s general election.

Despite this setback, Syriza secured 35.46 percent of the vote on Sunday, close to an absolute majority of 145 seats in the country’s 300-seat parliament. Coalition partner ANEL can provide another 10 lawmakers.

“Syriza proved too tough to die,” Tsipras, the country’s youngest premier in 150 years and the EU’s first radical left leader in office, told a victory rally in Athens on Sunday evening.

– ‘Gamble paid off’ –

Syriza’s main rivals, the conservative New Democracy Party, came second on 28.10 percent, while the Syriza defectors who had formed a rival anti-austerity party failed to pick up the required three percent of the vote to enter parliament.

In an indication of Greece’s weariness with five years of economic crisis and political tumult, nearly 44 percent of voters sat out the election — the third vote for Greeks this year including a referendum on austerity. The abstention rate during the January election stood at 36 percent.

Post-victory celebrations also indicated crisis fatigue, with only around 500 jubilant Syriza supporters turning out to congratulate Tsipras on a hot Athens night against 8,000 in January.

“We know people are tired, that tomorrow’s measures will be tough, that people have had enough of elections, that this isn’t really a night for celebration,” a Syriza voter told AFP.

– ‘Open issues’ –

By now a familiar face in the corridors of power in Brussels and other European capitals, Tsipras has pledged to soften the edges of the bailout to help his country’s poorest citizens weather the austerity storm.

“I could say the deal we brought is a living organism,” Tsipras said ahead of the election, listing a number of “open issues” including debt reduction, privatisations, labour relations and how to deal with non-performing bank loans.

But the clock is ticking, with a review due in October by the lenders on whether Athens is abiding by the cash-for-reforms programme. At stake for the new government will be the release of a new three-billion-euro tranche of aid.

Greece’s new parliament, expected to convene on October 1, will have to revise the 2015 budget, taking into account pension and income tax reforms, including taxes on farmers’ income that are set to double by 2017.

The government must also finalise a procedure to recapitalise Greek banks by December, before new EU-wide bank rescue regulations that could affect depositors come into play in 2016.

Tsipras must also move quickly to remove capital controls that his previous administration imposed in June to avert a deposit run.

A total of eight parties booked seats in the next parliament, with neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn in third place, followed by the Pasok socialists.


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