Greece will proceed with a referendum on the European Union’s financing package and Prime Minister George Papandreou will win a vote of confidence in Parliament this week, government spokesman Angelos Tolkas said Tuesday.
Tolkas said that Papandreou is currently discussing both votes with his Cabinet in Athens. Greek Health Minister Andreas Loverdos and two other members of Papandreou’s Cabinet planned to tell the premier to drop the plan for the referendum, Proto Thema newspaper reported earlier, without saying how it got the information.
“We’re not retreating and we haven’t retreated on all the things we needed to do to save the country,” Tolkas said in an interview on state-run ERT3 TV Tuesday. “As the prime minister said to his lawmakers yesterday, this is how we’re proceeding and these are our next steps.”
Papandreou’s grip on power has weakened amid a lawmaker rebellion after his decision to put the bailout plan to a referendum. One, Milena Apostolaki, said she will defect from Papandreou’s socialist Pasok party, leaving him with 152 deputies in the 300-seat chamber.
Another four lawmakers have criticised the plans for the referendum, stopping short of defection, and six members of the party called on the premier to resign in a joint letter, Athens News Agency said today. Other deputies have called for a national unity government.
Stocks fell, the euro tumbled and Italian bonds plunged today on concern that the referendum, which blindsided Greek lawmakers as well as European policy makers, will push Greece into a disorderly default if the bailout is rejected. Austerity steps imposed by creditors have sparked a wave of social unrest in the past 18 months, undermining support for the government. Papandreou won his last major vote on austerity measures by 154 votes to 144 on Oct. 20.
“If it continues with Papandreou and the referendum, we will end up with a default and the default will push us into the drachma,” former Greek Finance Minister Stefanos Manos said in an interview with Dublin-based broadcaster RTE today. The referendum call puts in jeopardy the payment of the next installment of bailout funds by the International Monetary Fund and the European Union, he said.
Another key member of the ruling party, Vasso Papandreou, called on the Greek president to move toward forming a national unity government.
Investors are concerned that a failed referendum will spark a default where bondholders get paid less than what is on offer under the terms of current bailout agreements.
German 10-year yields slipped 26 basis points to 1.77 percent at 5 p.m. in London. Italian bonds dropped, pushing the 10-year yield to as much as 442 basis points above benchmark German bunds. The euro was 1.1 percent lower at $1.37 after yesterday’s 2 percent decline.
A rejection of the EU-IMF aid plan “would increase the risk of a forced and disorderly sovereign default” and raises the chance of Greece leaving the euro, Fitch Ratings said in a statement today.
Papandreou, 59, wants to hold a referendum after details of last week’s second bailout package for Greece are approved. The vote of confidence in Parliament is currently scheduled to begin tomorrow and to conclude at the end of this week. Before then, Papandreou will travel to Cannes to discuss the crisis with Group of 20 leaders, according to a Greek official.
The new round of political turmoil throws into doubt Greece’s ability to access the emergency funding that’s keeping its finances afloat. The IMF’s Executive Board was due to meet in mid-November to decide on paying its part of the sixth bailout tranche, which is worth a total of 8 billion euros ($11 billion).
Greek officials will also have to outline to international officials in the coming weeks how they will secure a seventh round of funding. Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said the government needs to impose “rescue measures” to secure “the long-term sustainability of Greek public debt.” Greece has a 14.4 billion-euro bond maturing in March, Bloomberg data shows.
“The crisis in the country has taken on uncontrollable dimensions and threatens the cohesion of Greek society,” said lawmaker Milena Apostolaki, who said she will defect from Pasok. “The titanic effort needed to exit the crisis needs national acceptance and social support. A referendum is a deeply divisive process. I want to express my categorical disagreement with this initiative of the government.”
Most of the 1,009 people surveyed on Oct. 27, the day the new bailout package was announced, said the accord should be put to a referendum, according to the results of a Kapa Research SA poll, published in To Vima newspaper. Forty-six percent said they’d oppose the plan at such a referendum. In the same poll, more than seven in 10 favored Greece remaining in the euro.
“Papandreou’s government is something that defies logic: it ought to have fallen some time ago given the economic situation of Greece,” Niall Ferguson, a historian currently at Harvard University, said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “The reason it hasn’t is that the Greeks themselves aren’t sure if there’s a better alternative to this grim austerity.”
EU leaders carved out a second aid package for Greece at a summit in Brussels lasting into the early hours of Oct. 27, after Papandreou scraped together parliamentary approval for the second round of austerity measures in four months. Greece will receive 130 billion euros in public funds plus a 50 percent writedown on Greek debt, following a fully taxpayer-funded package of 110 billion euros extended in May 2010.
“For the new agreement, we must go to a referendum for Greeks to decide,” Papandreou told Pasok lawmakers yesterday. “Democracy is alive and well and Greeks are being called to rise to a national duty beyond the regular electoral processes.”
Pacific Investment Management Co. Chief Executive Officer Mohamed El-Erian said the referendum call “is material and consequential.”
“In addition to constituting a major political gamble, the run-up will put the European Central Bank, EU and International Monetary Fund in a tough position regarding disbursements to Greece,” El-Erian said in an e-mail today. He also expressed concern that the European Union deal “appears to be unraveling from many sides.”
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