Greek parliament adopts anti-poverty law despite EU row

Update: March, 19/2015 - 10:19

ATHENS – The Greek parliament have overwhelmingly adopted a "humanitarian crisis" bill to help its poorest people, ignoring apparent pressure from the European Union to halt the legislation.

The move came as Germany warned that time was "tight" for debt-wracked Greece and on the eve of an EU summit in Brussels where anti-austerity Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is hoping for a breakthrough in tough talks over his reforms.

Wednesday's first package of social measures put forward by Tsipras' radical left-wing government drew support across the board in parliament, including from the conservative, former ruling New Democracy party.

The bill had prompted a request from Declan Costello, a representative on the European Commission team monitoring Greece, asking the government to stall the vote on what Brussels called "unilateral" measures.

Tsipras was defiant ahead of the vote in parliament, saying: "Some technocrats are trying to scare us with ultimatums."

He is to meet the French and German leaders plus the EU's top officials late on Thursday in Brussels to plead his case for relaxing the terms of Greece's bailout programme, it was announced on Wednesday.

In the latest skirmish between the new Greek government and its international creditors, Athens lashed out at the Commission's request saying it amounted to a "veto" of the bill and added to the "pressure" on Greece.

But the EU's economic affairs commissioner Pierre Moscovici denied the Commission's move was a veto of the anti-poverty bill, which will provide free electricity and food stamps for the poorest households – a key election pledge of Tsipras' Syriza party when they swept to power in January.

"We fully support the objective of helping the most vulnerable and there is absolutely no question of a so-called veto of the humanitarian crisis law," Moscovici told reporters.

Greece said the Commission was already aware of the legislation, which it claimed was mentioned in a February 20 agreement with its EU and International Monetary Fund creditors to extend Greece's 240-billion-euro ($255 billion) bailout.

But Athens has not received the last tranche of the money, about seven billion euros, because Brussels insists on first approving the new Greek reform package.

"The government has committed to adopting measures to tackle the humanitarian crisis... the measures have a relatively low cost," Greek government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis told Skai TV, which valued the cost of the bill at 200 million euros. — AFP