Greek leaders bicker over the next government in TV debate

New Democracy leader Vaggelis Meimarakis. EPP summit, 2015. [European People's Party/Flickr]

In a heated television debate on Monday (14 September), Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras ruled out any cooperation with the conservative New Democracy party ahead of a crucial vote on Sunday (21 September).

With just five days before the snap elections in Athens, the leftist party of ex-premier Alexis Tsipras has a razor-thin lead over New Democracy (ND), the latest polls show.

According to the Greek electoral system, the party which gets the majority of the vote is automatically granted a 50 seat bonus in the new parliament.

But in this election, no single party is expected to win an absolute majority, and the two key parties in the race [Syriza and New Democracy] may be forced to seek coalition partners.

>>Read: Syriza warming up to PASOK

Analysts in Athens stress that the pro-EU political forces will prevail in the 300-seat parliament by 70%, helping the debt-ridden country’s international creditors feel reassured over the implementation of the third bailout.

Tsipras rejects ND

Asked about possible post-election alliances, Alexis Tsipras said that he could still win an overall majority, but that he was ready for a “progressive” coalition which will not include New Democracy.

“There is no doubt that immediately after the election there will be a government,” Tsipras said, adding that an alliance with ND would be “unnatural”.

“We have radical differences on key issues […] I will try to create the necessary broader consensus so there can be a government,” he added.

Tsipras said he was relying on the right-wing Independent Greeks party, the junior coalition partner in his previous government.

All the polls, though, suggest that the Independent Greeks won’t enter reenter parliament, as they party cannot reach the 3% threshold required.

On the other hand, New Democracy leader Vangelis Meimarakis took a more conciliatory tone.

Meimarakis emphaised that the country needed a broad coalition government and a “national negotiating team” in order to better implement the third bailout.

“With Mr. Tsipras, we can have a joint approach on specific issues, such as compliance with the memorandum that he signed,” Meimarakis said.

In an interview with EURACTIV on 10 September, former President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, expressed the need for a national unity government.

>>Read: Van Rompuy: ‘EU leaders only take bold decisions when they have a knife against their throats’

“The election will show, I think, that a coalition government, in some form, is inevitable. So let’s hope that after the elections, and independent of the results, the Greeks have some sort of coalition government, preferably a government of national union,” he said.

Renegotiating the bailout

Both leaders promised to renegotiate particular terms of the third bailout. But, according to EU officials, such a possibility will depend on the country’s economic performance.

On 9 September, a high-ranking eurozone official told journalists in Brussels that the third bailout package is still open for adjustment.

>>Read: EU official: Greek bailout deal still open for fine tuning

“There won’t be a major political renegotiation of the programme,” clarifed Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem, at a meeting of finance ministers in Luxembourg on Saturday (12 September).

“There are a number of issues of what should be done in the labour market that have been put in a process, rather than defined in details. In that process, there will be further talks with the institutions. But that’s quite different than renegotiating the agreement, because I don’t see that it is possible,” he added.

French ECB board member Benoit Coeuré took the same position.

“There is room for discussion, but of course and obviously within the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding), and in a way that should deliver on the objectives contained in the MOU,” he stressed.

Schäubles Grexit plan

Tsipras also talked about the “temporary Grexit plan” proposed by German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, during the tough negotiations last summer.

“Schäuble’s time-out plan would be catastrophic [for Greece]. There were [EU] forces that backed this Grexit plan,” he said, pointing out that New Democracy is affiliated with the EPP together with Schäuble’s CDU.

In a recent interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Schäuble argued that Greek society would have to decide whether it will carry out the necessary reforms “within the euro or not”.

According to the German minister, the Samaras-Venizelos government was “on the right path”, while Alexis Tsipras made promises to the Greek people he was unable to keep, specifically, to remain in the euro, but without a program for reform.

Who is taller?

At the end of the debate, the New Democracy leader told journalists he was disappointed with the administration of public TV broadcaster (ERT), where the event took place.

He was frustrated with the cameraman’s choice to show Tsipras as being “taller” than he actually is.

“I would kindly request from the cameraman to show both of us at the same height. Looks like Mr Tsipras got extra height tonight,” Meimarakis quipped.

ERT was officially shut in June 2013, following conservative (ND) premier Antonis Samaras decision to close the broadcaster. Almost 3000 employees were dismissed.

In April 2015, the Syriza-led parliament approved the reopening of ERT, which resumed operations in June.

In a move to please voters, Syriza also recruited ERT’s fired employees.


Eurozone leaders reached an agreement on a programme to save Greece from bankruptcy after 17-hour talks on 13 July.

>>Read: Eurozone reaches ‘laborious’ tentative deal on Greece

If approved by parliaments, this will be the third rescue programme for Greece in five years. It will be managed by the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the eurozone permanent crisis resolution fund that was initially set up five years ago in an effort to save Athens from bankruptcy.

Here is a look at what Greece must do:

  • Request continued support from the International Monetary Fund after its current IMF program expires in early 2016.
  • Streamline consumer tax and broaden the tax base to increase revenue.
  • Multiple reforms to the pension system to make it financially viable.
  • Safeguard the independence of the country's statistics agency.
  • Introduce laws by Wednesday that would ensure "quasi-automatic spending cuts" if the government misses its budget surplus targets.
  • Overhaul the civil justice system to make it more efficient and reduce costs.
  • Carry out product market reforms that include allowing stores to open on Sundays, broadening sales periods, opening up pharmacy ownership, reforming the bakeries and milk market and opening up closed and protected professions, including ferry transport.
  • Privatise the electricity transmission network operator unless alternative measures with the same effect can be found.
  • Overhaul the labour market. This includes reviewing collective bargaining, industrial action and collective dismissal regulations.
  • Tackle banks' non-performing loans and strengthen bank governance.
  • Significantly increase the privatization program, transferring 50 billion euros worth of Greek assets to an independent fund, based in Greece, to carry out the privatizations.
  • Modernize, strengthen and reduce the costs of Greek administration.
  • Allow members of the three institutions overseeing Greece’s reforms - the European Central Bank, IMF and European Commission, previously known as the 'troika" - to return to Athens. The government must consult with the institutions on all relevant draft legislation before submitting it to public consultation or to parliament.
  • Reexamine, with a view to amend, legislation passed in the last six months that is deemed to have backtracked on previous bailout commitments.

Subscribe to our newsletters


Want to know what's going on in the EU Capitals daily? Click here!