ATHENS, GREECE—After a night of high drama, both inside and outside parliament, the Greek government passed the slew of new austerity measures demanded by its official lenders in return for a second bailout package worth 130 billion euros. The deal slashes the minimum wage by 22 percent, reduces pensions, and will result in public-worker rolls shrinking by 150,000 employees, among other measures. The final count for the controversial package, which was announced after 1 a.m. Monday morning, was 199 in favor and 74 against. Politicians accused each other of national betrayal, and tensions erupted into angry exchanges about a deeply divided country on the verge of desperation. Meanwhile, outside parliament, a vast swathe of downtown Athens was once again left defenseless against violence, with smashing, burning and pillaging until the early hours of the morning. Protests also turned ugly in other parts of Greece, from Salonica to Crete.
After days of intense negotiations during which its membership in the eurozone seemed to hang by a thread, Greece finally reached an agreement today on the measures that will accompany the new loan package from its European partners and the International Monetary Fund.
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM—The specter of Greek default haunted Monday’s informal European Union summit. Despite valiant efforts by EU leaders to focus on promoting growth and jobs, an issue they finally seem to have woken up to, and on finalizing the new fiscal compact agreed on last December, Greece’s debt odyssey hovered menacingly over the proceedings. And, as if the Greek situation were not enough, nerves were further frayed by the evolving Portuguese disaster. As talks were under way in Brussels, ten-year Portuguese bond spreads were reaching euro-era highs of more than 15 percent amid growing fears that the Iberian country would follow in Greece’s footsteps and restructure its debt.
Greece is once again the focal point of efforts to stem the bleeding of investor confidence and save the eurozone. Intense negotiations continue on the precise terms of the restructuring of privately held debt in the struggling Mediterranean country. Agreement is a necessary condition for the approval of a second bailout package from Greece’s eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which, at 130 billion euros or more, will exceed the first one.
Friday was another very bad day for Europe’s crisis managers. Within the space of a few hours, it was revealed that talks between Greece and its international creditors had reached a dead end and were being put on hold and that Standard & Poor’s had downgraded nine eurozone countries, including France and Austria, which formerly held AAA ratings. Both developments are alarming, but the Greek situation is the more immediately pressing.