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Greece: a Chronology From January 25, 2015 to 2019

Five years ago, on 25 January 2015, the Greek people sent a great signal of hope to the rest of the world.

The purpose of this timeline is to review the main events of 2015. The chronology ends with the results of the May-June-July 2019 elections.

25 January 2015: in the parliamentary elections, victory for Syriza (Syriza in Greek means coalition of the radical left).

27 January: beginning of Syriza–Anel government with Alexis Tsipras as Prime Minister.

30 January: the press conference given by Yanis Varoufakis (minister of finance) and Jeroen Dijsselbloem (president of the Eurogroup) was a chance to make public the disagreements between the Syriza government and the European institutions, and to launch the first round of “negotiations” before the 20 February agreement.

4 February: the European Central Bank hits hard at the Tsipras government by refusing to let Greek banks continue to deposit Greek bonds as a guarantee for access to liquidity. This results in rising costs for Greek banks and a reduction of the Greek state’s main source of internal financing, while Greek depositors hurry to withdraw their savings. It is a declaration of war by the ECB on the Tsipras government. The Tsipras government also learns that the ECB will not be paying them the €1.9 billion in profits that it had realized on Greek bonds and had promised to pay back in 2015.

5 February: popular mobilization in Athens, and on a smaller scale in Paris and other European capitals, in response to the ECB’s power play.

8 February: Alexis Tsipras makes his first speech on general policy to the Hellenic Parliament (the Vouli). The Greek prime minister confirms that he will begin to implement the Thessaloniki programme immediately. This means putting an end to the Memorandum and replacing it with a programme of national reconstruction.

11 February: the government’s first official meeting with the Eurogroup, regarding an agreement demanded by the European institutions before 20 February, the date when the current / second Memorandum was due to end. Varoufakis promises to honour all obligations contracted by preceding governments. The “occupy the squares” movement calls for rallies in Athens and several other Greek towns. There is a demonstration of support for Greece in Frankfurt.

12 February: the Tsipras government begins emptying the public treasury to pay the IMF € 747.7 million.

18 February: the parliament elects the conservative Prokopis Pavlopoulos as president of the republic. It was Alexis Tsipras who persuaded Syriza’s parliamentary group to nominate and elect this notable member of the establishment as a sign of continuity with the former regime and of appeasement.

20 February 2015: the Eurogroup president, Jeroen Dijsselbloem of the Dutch labour party, informs Varoufakis that the balance of €11 billion for recapitalizing the banks in the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund (HFSF), which the Tsipras government was counting on to carry out part of its electoral pledges, is being sent to Luxembourg instead of being placed at the disposal of Greece. Varoufakis also learns that the final tranche of €7.2 billion of the loan the Troika had granted Greece within the framework of the Memorandum will probably not be paid either. Varoufakis signs the Eurogroup’s communiqué establishing the framework for negotiations over the following months: this was his first capitulation and marked the renouncement of applying the main points of Syriza’s programme.

23 February: the Greek minister of finance, Yanis Varoufakis, sends the president of the Eurogroup a letter outlining a list of reforms proposed within the framework of the 20 February agreement. The letter, as the Greek press reveals later the same day, was largely drawn up by Declan Costello of the European Commission.

24 February: a stormy meeting of the Greek government

25 February: in a lengthy debate, a third of the Syriza MPs oppose the 20 February agreement.

27 February: Varoufakis signs a letter written by the Troika, which constitutes an act of submission.

28 February–1st March: the first meeting of Syriza’s central committee since the elections. The amendment presented by the Left Platform rejecting the 20 February agreement and the list of reforms of 23 February receives 41 per cent of the votes.

Early March: Varoufakis proposes to sell the Greek railways to the Chinese government and that they should complete their purchase of the port of Piraeus.

6 March: Greece repays €299 million to the IMF.

13 March: Greece repays €336 million to the IMF.

16 March: Greece repays €560.8 million to the IMF.

17 March: press conference at the Hellenic Parliament to announce the creation of the Truth Committee on Greek Public Debt, created by the president of the Hellenic Parliament, Zoe Konstantopoulou. Scientific coordination of the committee is entrusted to Eric Toussaint (of the Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt, the CADTM).

18 March: the Hellenic Parliament votes in the first law of the Tsipras government, consisting of a package of social measures in favour of the poorest sectors of society as well as the creation of a secretariat to combat corruption.

20 March: Greece repays €336.5 million to the IMF.

1st April: the president of the Hellenic Parliament, Zoe Konstantopoulou, with the support of Alexis Tsipras, founds a committee to assess the debt for war reparations owed to Greece by Germany.

3 April: the cabinet of ministers decides to inform the IMF that Greece will suspend debt repayments and decides to send Varoufakis to Washington to explain the decision to the IMF’s Christine Lagarde and make it public.

4 April: inaugural session of the Truth Committee on Greek Public Debt created by Zoe Konstantopoulou, the president of the Hellenic Parliament. https://www.cadtm.org/4-April-2015-a-landmark-in-the Present at this inaugural session are: the prime minister, the president of the republic, the president of parliament and the majority of members of the government including the minister of finance. The session is introduced by the president of parliament, Eric Toussaint and the president of the republic. See on https://www.hellenicparliament.gr/Enimerosi/Grafeio-Typou/Deltia-Typou/?press=eb4f5c35-72d3-4aba-884a-a473018a6e4f

5 April: Varoufakis arrives in Washington and obeys Tsipras’s order to give up the idea of suspending debt payments.

8 April: meeting between Alexis Tsipras and Vladimir Putin about partnerships in the economic domain, especially for major shared projects in the energy sector. Putin makes no concrete commitment to providing aid.

9 April: Greece repays €448.6 million to the IMF.

24 April: at the Eurogroup meeting in Riga, negotiations are claimed to have failed and payment of the last tranche of aid (of €7.2 billion) that was to have followed the 20 February agreement is postponed.

27 April: Yanis Varoufakis is replaced by Euclid Tsakalotos as coordinator of the Greek negotiating team.

11 May: the Eurogroup meets in Brussels. The Greeks agree to open up the energy market to competition, to abrogate a swathe of reduced VAT rates and to continue negotiations. Problems arise when questions of pension reform or labour market reform come up.

12 May: Greece, strapped for resources, nevertheless repays another €747.7 million to the IMF. The IMF has found a trick to get its money: it places €650 million, considered as a loan to Greece, in an account opened at the IMF by Greece. Greece then uses the money to repay the IMF, adding the difference.

15 May: a communiqué from the political secretariat of Syriza appeals for the government’s “red lines” to be respected, through popular mobilization in Greece and Europe.
Eric Toussaint’s statement after his dialogue with Dimitris Stratoulis, Greek minister of pensions https://www.cadtm.org/Eric-Toussaint-s-statement-after

24 May: meeting of Syriza’s central committee. An amendment brought by the Left Platform, criticizing the way negotiations were going and the government’s strategy, and calling for unilateral measures to bring about the implementation of the Thessaloniki programme, gets 44 per cent of votes.

3 June: summoned by European Commission president Juncker, Tsipras agrees to go to Brussels on 3 June and confirms that he is ready to commit to producing a primary budgetary surplus of 3.5 per cent over ten years, which is in total contradiction with the Thessaloniki Programme and untenable for a country that intends to break with austerity. Yet the Troika wants still more: it demands further reduction of pensions, and especially the suppression of a benefit called EKAS, granted to pensioners whose pensions are very low, and an increase in the VAT, to be raised to 24 per cent for some goods and services. In the catering industry, for example, the Troika wants the VAT to be increased from 13 to 23 per cent.

4 June: just when Greece is due to repay the IMF another €305 million, that institution suggests that all payments due in June, a total of €1,532.9 million, should be paid in one go on 30 June 2015. This is to place maximum pressure on Greece to force it to agree to another capitulation before the end of the second Memorandum, due to end on 30 June 2015.

5 June: faced with the Troika’s new stringencies of 3 June, Tsipras decides not to attend a meeting called in Brussels for 5 June and in a speech to the Hellenic Parliament denounces the Troika’s demands.

13 June: the public broadcasting channel ERT is reopened after having been shut down in June 2013. Tsipras and Pappas, his minister in charge of the media, place an establishment bigwig at its head, triggering discontent among those expecting a broadcaster that would act independently, conduct investigations and produce stimulating criticism.

17–18 June: the Truth Committee on Greek Public Debt presents its preliminary report and findings. All the debt demanded by the Troika is identified as odious, illegitimate, illegal and unsustainable. The committee recommends that the government should repudiate the debt by means of a sovereign unilateral act. The prime minister is present, as are numerous cabinet ministers. However, although Varoufakis is in Athens on 17 June, he chooses not to attend. See “Summary of the first day of the presentation of the preliminary report of the Debt Truth Commission” https://www.cadtm.org/Summary-of-the-first-day-of-the

18 June: the Eurogroup holds another meeting about Greece in Brussels: the Troika maintains its pressure on the Greek government.

22 June: Tsipras makes a further concession: the government agrees to make significant reductions in pensions once again; but the Troika wants more.

20–26 June: week of action by European social movements in support of the Greek people. Demonstrations uniting several thousand people take place in many European cities, including about thirty in France.

24–26 June: Tsipras negotiates in Brussels. Despite the government’s concessions, the Troika refuses to sign a new agreement. Now Tsipras, like Varoufakis, wants a new Memorandum even though they do not inform the Greek public of this.

27 June: after the failure of negotiations in Brussels, Alexis Tsipras calls a referendum for 5 July regarding the creditors’ latest proposal.
Immediately the ECB forces the government to close the banks as of Monday 29 June.

29 June: Juncker, president of the European Commission, denounces the referendum call and appeals to Greeks in no uncertain terms to vote ‘yes’ rather than “commit suicide.” His intervention may have had the opposite effect to the one he intended.

30 June: Benoît Cœuré, vice-president of the ECB, announces that if the Greeks vote in majority “no” they will almost certainly be expelled from the Eurozone whereas if they vote “yes” the Troika will provide aid to Greece.

30 June: Greece is unable to repay the IMF because of a shortage of funds. The coffers are empty.

3 July: as part of the growing popular mobilization in favour of the “no” vote, several thousand demonstrators assemble in Syntagma Square. “Yes” partisans also call for mobilization but they are far less numerous.

5 July: the “no” vote is victorious, with 61.31 per cent of the votes.

6 July: the Greek minister of finance, Yanis Varoufakis, resigns and is replaced by Euclid Tsakalotos, who had been negotiating in his stead since the end of April, helped by George Chouliarakis. Explaining his resignation to the public, Varoufakis declares: “I therefore give my unhesitating support to the prime minister, the new finance minister and the government.”

Jack Lew, the US Secretary of the Treasury, telephones Tsipras to pressure him into accepting the new Memorandum on the Troika’s conditions, rejected by the Greeks in the referendum. François Hollande does the same.

Tsipras meets the parties that had called for a “yes” vote and with them draws up a position conforming to the Troika’s demands, even though these had been clearly rejected the day before in the referendum.

7 July: at the Brussels summit, Juncker is downright insulting. In the presence of Alexis Tsipras, he declares that the Greek people had been asked a question about something which does not exist, and asks Tsipras to explain in detail what the question put to the Greeks was, “if that would not be too much to ask.” Tsipras replies that the government is ready to negotiate.

8 July: Tsipras puts forward a proposal that resembles the one rejected by the referendum: more pension reductions, acceleration of privatizations, increased VAT rates, a primary budgetary surplus of 3.5 per cent, and so on.

8 July: Strong opposition within the Syriza parliamentary group.

10 July: the Greek parliament votes in favour of Tsipras’s proposal, drawn up with the approval of the IMF and the ECB and that of the parties who lost the referendum. All the right-wing parties except Golden Dawn vote for it, as do the majority of Syriza MPs (except for Zoe Konstatopoulou, the six ministers of Syriza’s Left Platform and a few other MPs). Varoufakis avoids taking part in the vote by not attending parliament.

11 July: while the IMF and the ECB are in agreement with the Greek proposal which they helped to elaborate, several ministers and heads of state wish to impose heavier sacrifices on Greece.

13 July: following a summit meeting of heads of state and Eurozone governments, the Greek government agrees to take steps towards a third Memorandum, with even harsher conditions than those rejected in the referendum of 5 July. Regarding debt, the text clearly stipulates that there will be no reduction of Greek debt. The Eurozone summit emphasizes that there can be no nominal discount of the debt. The Greek authorities reaffirm their unequivocal attachment to fulfilling their financial obligations towards all their creditors, wholly and in due course.

13 July: the hashtag #THISISACOUP is tweeted 377,000 times and goes round the world in a few hours, protesting against the diktat of the Troika over Greece.

15 July: a demonstration in Syntagma Square of the “no” partisans opposed to the 13 July agreement is repressed by the police. A letter signed by 109 members (out of 201) of Syriza’s central committee rejects the 13 July agreement, which it qualifies as a coup d’état, and demands an urgent meeting of the central committee.

15–16 July: parliament votes in the first package of austerity measures demanded by the 13 July agreement, concerning VAT and pensions, with the votes of New Democracy, Pasok and To Potami, but without the votes of 39 Syriza MPs (32 against, including Varoufakis, 6 abstentions, 1 absence).

17 July: after the 13 July agreement, the European Commission announces the release of a new loan of €7 billion. Alexis Tsipras reshuffles his government, dismissing two ministers of the Left Platform, Panagiotis Lafazanis and Dimitris Stratoulis.

20 July: €3.5 billion are repaid to the European Central Bank and €2 billion to the International Monetary Fund.

22–23 July: parliament votes in the second package of austerity measures demanded by the European institutions, containing the institutional measures required for the application of the third Memorandum. Among the Syriza MPs, 31 vote against and 5 abstain. Varoufakis votes for.

30 July: Syriza’s central committee holds a meeting. The demands, upheld by the Left Platform in particular, for a Syriza congress to take place before the signature of the agreement and for a referendum within the party over pursuing negotiation, are rejected, leading to the resignation of several members of the central committee.

13 August: on the initiative of the Left Platform, ten leaders of left-wing political groups call for popular mobilization and for the formation of a new political force, outside Syriza, to oppose the policies of the Tsipras government and the third memorandum.

14 August: vote in the Hellenic parliament on the third Memorandum. Yes: 222 votes. No: 64 votes (of which 32 are Syriza members). Abstention: 11 votes (10 Syriza). Absent from the vote: 2 (Syriza).

20 August: payment of €3.2 billion to the ECB for bonds it bought in 2010–2012 at 70 per cent of their nominal value and which had yielded it 6.1 per cent of interest every year on the total nominal value, that is, a real rate of return of about 10 per cent.

20 September: early elections. Syriza remains the main electoral force and Tsipras forms a new government.

From August 2015 until August 2018: the third Memorandum is implemented with a long list of new austerity measures and social regression.

European elections from 26 May 2019: victory of New Democracy.

Local and regional elections in two rounds are held (26 May and 2 June 2019): victory of New Democracy, which takes control of 12 of the 13 regions (in Crete Syriza remains in power, allied to Pasok) and most of the country’s big towns, including Athens and Thessaloniki. However KKE, the Greek Communist Party, which gets the Syriza votes, keeps Patras, even though the KKE had never called to vote for Syriza.

Early elections on 7 July 2019: victory of New Democracy. The party led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, with 40 per cent of the votes, has an absolute majority in Parliament. Syriza gets 31.5 per cent of votes. Golden Dawn no longer has any parliamentary representation. A new far-right party, Greek Solution, enters parliament for the first time. The party founded by Varoufakis wins 9 seats (3.4 per cent of votes), and the Communist Party has 15 MPs with just over 5 per cent of votes.

The Greek people, disappointed by Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza, withdrew their support. Syriza lost 470,000 votes compared to the January 2015 election. Syriza, with Tsipras at its head, won 82 seats, or a little over a fourth of the total seats in the parliament. In terms of percentage, the total votes won by Syriza (31.5 per cent), Varoufakis’s movement (3.4 per cent) and that of the former president of the Greek Parliament, Zoe Kostantopoulou (1.4 per cent, which was short of the threshold of 3 per cent needed for a seat) corresponds to the portion of the electorate that carried Syriza to government in January 2015.

Signalling the disillusionment of the Greek people, the abstention rate strongly increased. At 42 per cent, it was the second-highest in the country’s history. Tsipras’s capitulation led to a total rejection of politics, in particular among working people and youth.

And yet Syriza is the party that has paid the lowest price for applying the Memoranda while in power. The Right (New Democracy), which returned to power in July 2019 with promises of improved living conditions for the people, had gone from 2,300,000 votes in 2009 to 1,100,000 in May 2012, and then increased to 1,800,000 in June 2012 to return to government. Pasok, which had received popular support in October 2009 with 3 million votes and then agreed to the first Memorandum of Understanding, was handed an unequivocal rejection in June 2012 with 753,000 votes. And its collapse continued after that–only 289,000 votes in January 2015! Syriza, on the other hand, which in February 2015 prolonged the second Memorandum of Understanding and in July–August 2015 presided over the adoption of the third Memorandum through to its finalization in August 2018, dropped from 2,246,000 votes in January 2015 to 1,926,000 in September 2015 and 1,781,000 in July 2019.

Syriza’s less catastrophic political fortunes show above all that the Greek people are not massively turning to the Right or the extreme Right. But also that they have responded with an attitude of resignation and adaptation to the “normality” created by the neoliberal purge. The extreme Right lost votes compared to 2015, even though a new party of the same stripe (Greek Solution) made its entry into Parliament while Golden Dawn, mired in court proceedings, lost its 17 seats, falling short of the threshold of 3 per cent. Mitsotakis’s New Democracy stole votes from Golden Dawn by putting extreme-Right leaders high on its tickets.

Crushed by a debt that is still in excess of 170 per cent of GDP, Greece remains in a kind of protectorate status concealed behind the simulacrum of sovereignty. But the people of Greece have not said their last word.

Translated by CADTM

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