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Greece to go ahead with anti-poverty bill vote despite EU challenge

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Greece parliament. source wikipedia

Greece will go ahead with a vote in parliament Wednesday on a “humanitarian crisis” bill to help its poorest households, ignoring apparent pressure from the EU to halt the legislation.

Athens has reacted angrily to a request from Declan Costello, a representative on the European Commission team monitoring Greece, telling the government not to make a “unilateral” move.

In this latest skirmish between the Greeks and their creditors, government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis said the Commission’s move amounted to a “veto” of the bill and added to the “pressure” on Greece.

However, the EU’s economic affairs commissioner Pierre Moscovici denied had been a veto of the anti-poverty bill, which was expected to be voted on by the Greek parliament later on Wednesday.

“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.

“It (the Commission) acts in the interest of Greece, something for which it is criticised I might add,” said Moscovici, without confirming or denying the existence of the letter.

“Costello has the Commission’s trust and mine personally because he is accomplishing remarkable work, helping us understand in the widest possible sense what is happening in Greece.”

Sakellaridis said the Commission had prior knowledge of the legislation to provide free electricity and food stamps for the poorest households, one of the ruling Syriza party’s key election pledges.

It was mentioned in the February 20 agreement with European Union and International Monetary Fund creditors to extend Greece’s 240-billion-euro ($255 billion) bailout, the spokesman said.

“The government has committed to adopting measures to tackle the humanitarian crisis… the measures have a relatively low cost,” Sakellaridis told Skai TV, which valued the cost of the measures at 200 million euros.

The row over the bill was sparked when a copy of an alleged letter from Costello appeared online.

“We would strongly urge having the proper policy consultations first, including consistency with reform efforts,” Costello said in the letter quoted in a blog by a reporter from Britain’s Channel 4 News.

“There are several issues to be discussed and we need to do them as a coherent and comprehensive package.

“Doing otherwise would be proceeding unilaterally and in a piecemeal manner that is inconsistent with the commitments made, including to the Eurogroup as stated in the February 20 communique,” the letter reportedly said.

The humanitarian law is the first by the radical left-wing government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who came to power in late January, to be presented to the Greek parliament.

Greek government coffers are almost empty and Tsipras needs further financial assistance for his country, but he also wants to enact social laws that break with the austerity imposed by creditors since 2010.

His government’s refusal to fall into line with eurozone partners over its massive bailout has angered member governments, especially EU powerhouse Germany, but Spain and Portugal as well.

The Greek legislation calls for households that were cut off because they could not pay their bills to be given a capped amount of free electricity.

Up to 30,000 households would also get a housing allowance and 300,000 people would receive food subsidies


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