At the first cabinet meeting since his election on Sunday, Greece's new prime minister said that his government's top priority is negotiating with creditors to resolve the country's debt problems without blindly submitting to the demands of its European partners.
Alexis Tsipras, leader of the leftist Syriza party, said Wednesday that he wanted a “viable, mutually beneficial solution” to what he called the humanitarian disaster that Greece has suffered because of austerity measures imposed by its European creditors.
Tsipras told the cabinet meeting that he would renegotiate the country's bailout terms and restore the dignity and prestige of the Greek people. In a clear swipe at Brussels and the International Monetary Fund, which have imposed austerity measures to save Greece’s floundering economy, Tsipras insisted that Greece's new leaders were no longer willing to bow to the "politics of submission.”
"Our people are suffering and demand respect,” Tsipras said. “We must bleed to defend their dignity.”
Greece's partners in the eurozone have loaned it a total of about $227 billion since 2012, via the European Financial Stability Facility as well as bilateral loans. The terms of the bailout include austerity measures including slashing the minimum wage, pensions, and cuts to the health care budget.
Tsipras said that Greece would not meet a bailout requirement to produce "unfeasible and destructive" surpluses, which are diverted to pay back its creditors, and that the country was ready for a four-year fiscal plan to balance the budget.
The new government's radical anti-austerity agenda has alarmed financial markets, reviving fears that Greece could crash out of the eurozone. Greek bank stocks plunged more than 22 percent on Wednesday, the third consecutive day of losses, bringing their cumulative drop to 40 percent since the Jan. 25 election. Meanwhile, the overall Athens stock market fell another 8 percent on Wednesday.
German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel urged the new government in Greece to consider the citizens in other parts of Europe who have helped bail out the crisis-ridden country. Athens "should show some fairness to the people in Germany and the eurozone who have demonstrated solidarity," toward Greece, Gabriel told reporters Wednesday. "Our aim must be to keep Greece in the eurozone," Gabriel said. But "Greece cannot simply pick and choose what it does and does not want to do and expect its neighbors to step into the breach."