Greek prime minister declares 'day of liberation' as strict EU debt controls come to an end

Alexis Tsipras likened end of bailout to Homer's Odyssey

Jon Stone
Europe Correspondent
@joncstone
Tuesday 21 August 2018 16:46
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‘Ithaca will once again be identified with the end of a modern day Odyssey,’ said the Greek prime minster during his speech from the home of Odysseus
‘Ithaca will once again be identified with the end of a modern day Odyssey,’ said the Greek prime minster during his speech from the home of Odysseus

Greece’s prime minister has declared a “day of liberation” for the country following the end of extraordinary European Union debt and budget controls this week.

Leftist Alexis Tsipras said Greece had been on a “modern day Odyssey” after the imposition of harsh austerity measures and unpopular reforms.

The austerity policies saw unemployment swell to a high of 28 per cent, the economy shrink by a quarter, a third of the population fall into poverty, and hundreds of thousands of people leave the country.

“This is a day of liberation,” the Syriza leader said in a speech on Ithaca, the home of the legendary Greek hero Odysseus.

“We will not commit the affront of ignoring the lessons of the bailout on Greece. We will not let oblivion mislead us.”

He added: “We will never forget the cause, or the people who led our country into bailouts.”

Mr Tsipra’s party was elected on an anti-austerity platform in 2015 but failed to significantly renegotiate the country’s bailout terms, and instead became responsible for the imposition of the measures specified by Greece’s international creditors.

Ithaca will once again be identified with the end of a modern-day Odyssey

Alexis Tsipras

The government backed down from its original policy after Greek voters supported the bailouts in a referendum, with the alternative option being exit from the eurozone.

Greece has been running a primary budget surplus for years – taking more in tax than its state spends, with the exception of massive interest payments.

Despite the progress, the country will be expected to continue running primary surpluses for decades to come after EU creditors and Brussels refused to consider significant debt relief.

Greece has now saved a cushion of 24 billion euros in cash raised through taxation, in a highly unusual fiscal strategy for a sovereign state.

Austerity measures and the euro crisis provoked civil unrest in Athens (Reuters)

Following completion of the €61.9bn (£55bn) European Stability Mechanism bailout, Greece can now borrow money on the international fund markets again – though it is not expected to quite yet as rates will still be expensive.

“Ithaca will once again be identified with the end of a modern day Odyssey,” Mr Tsipras said on Tuesday in his speech, which was laden with references to Homer’s epic poem.

“Three-and-a-half years ago our people took a historic decision. To take the helm away from those who led it to the rocks, and to give it to new captains.”

Opposition politicians, who polls currently suggest will oust the leftists at elections scheduled for next year, criticised the prime minister’s message.

“The symbolism of Ithaca is false,” centre-right New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said. “We have not reached the end of the journey. Today is the end of cheap financing, but the tough measures and heavy commitments signed by Mr Tsipras will continue.”

Only four countries have shrunk more than Greece in the past decade, according to IMF figures: Yemen, Libya, Venezuela and Equatorial Guinea.

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