Greek PM alludes to granting '14th pension' in end 2019, as Europarliament elex now a week away

Monday, 20 May 2019 13:01
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Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Monday "upped the ante" ahead of Sunday's European Parliament election, telling a radio news program that his government's goal is to extend an end-of-the-year "14th pension" - assuming "there is fiscal space".

Tsipras' statement comes roughly a week after he abruptly announced the partial reinstitution of a so-called "13th pension", which was paid out on Friday to more than two million beneficiaries in the country. A maximum bonus of 500 euros - not counting tax deductions and other contributions -- was doled out to low-income pensioners, with the minimum being 30 percent of the benefit for beneficiaries receiving more than 1,000 in gross monthly benefits. During a televised announcement carried live by the state broadcaster, Tsipras also announced modest tax breaks and reductions in certain categories of VAT rates, the first roll back of a "tax tsunami" unleashed by his government in 2016-17 in order to meet creditors-mandated annual fiscal targets.

Speaking to the Athens-area radio station 247, Tsipras also promised that a pre-legislated reduction of the annual tax-free income threshold - proposed by his government and passed by a majority of MPs in 2017 - is part of his government's planning. The measure is set to come on line on Jan. 1, 2020 - months after general elections must be held no later than mid October 2019. A previously pre-legislated harmonization - downwards - of social security benefits was avoided earlier in the year, with the acquiescence of European creditors.

Tsipras deflected high-pitch criticism that the recently announced measures are mere "pre-election" enticements to voters, saying the latter are permanent "social support measures".

The Greek premier and his ruling hard left SYRIZA party are trailing main opposition New Democracy (ND) party in all mainstream opinion polls for the past two years. The difference between SYRIZA and ND hovers at between high single-digit percentage points to low double-digit percentage point gaps.

His political opponents have termed the outcome of the European Parliament election as a referendum on the government's remaining mandate, much in the way that Tsipras and SYRIZA considered the May 2014 Europarliament poll.

In another eyebrow-raising comment, Tsipras said his government will from now on more-or-less ignore Bank of Greece Gov. Yannis Stournaras, viewed since 2015 as a "thorn in the side" of the latter.

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