“A combination of terrific price increases and shrinking income is creating the conditions for a social crisis,” main opposition SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance President Alexis Tsipras said on Tuesday, during a meeting with the leadership of the Hellenic Confederation of Commerce and Entrepreneurship (HCCE).
Tsipras said the retail markets had presented a “tragic picture” during his recent tours and discussions with merchants in both Athens and the regions, who were worried about whether their businesses would survive the cost-of-living crisis, coming hard on the heels of the pandemic and the economic crisis that preceded it.
According to Tsipras, supporting the economy and society “was a matter of choice” and he outlined a series of measures that his party has proposed, including:
1. Reducing the special tax on fuel
2. Reducing VAT on staple foods and basic consumer goods
3. Increasing the minimum wage
4. The settlement and partial writing off of pandemic debt in ways that will be “fiscally beneficial, as you cannot collect from those that don’t have”.
5. Conversion of the returnable advance to a non-returnable grant
The main opposition leader said these actions were essential for as long as the crisis lasted and that government claims that there was insufficient fiscal space would carry more weight if a consistent strategy had been adopted on a series of other issues. Instead, Tsipras said, the government only remembered fiscal prudence when it came to supporting society.
“We are seeing a series of areas where there are other criteria but when it comes to giving even one euro to support society, merchants, small business owners and workers, then there are always objections,” he asserted.
As examples, he cited the seven billion euros spent on armaments, the seven billion euros spent through direct assignments and closed tenders and the 1.5 billion euros debt in the state coffers for the privatisation of supplementary pensions.
He accused the government of making major mistakes with respect to the energy sector, noting that Greece had the highest wholesale price for electricity and the fourth-highest price for petrol in Europe. These high energy prices were also pushing prices of all other goods, he added, and while this was a global phenomenon, “it is different when you have to deal with eight years of economy depression…and wages smaller than in 2010.”
Among these mistakes he included the privatisation of the Public Power Corporation and the networks and “phasing out of lignite without a plan” and lack of action to deal with market cartels.
HCCE President Giorgos Karanikas stressed the importance of SMEs for the Greek economy and emphasised the huge liquidity problems faced by all commercial enterprises after two years of pandemic and 10 years of economic crisis, as well as the latest inflation and cost-of-living crisis.