Greek PM easily wins confidence vote, EU showdown looms

Tue Feb 10, 2015 7:05pm EST
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By Lefteris Papadimas and Alastair Macdonald

ATHENS/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras comfortably won a confidence vote on his plan to cancel a deeply unpopular bailout program and challenge European leaders as both sides prepare for a showdown at meetings in Brussels this week.

In a rousing speech to parliament, Tsipras hailed the decisive role "little Greece" was playing in reshaping Europe and promised Athens would not cave in to demands it extend its international bailout "no matter how much" German Finance Minister Wolfang Schaeuble asked for it.

"We are not negotiating the bailout; it was canceled by its own failure," he told parliament before winning the vote with the backing of 162 lawmakers in the 300-seat chamber.

"I want to assure you that there is no going back. Greece cannot return to the era of bailouts."

That came after Schaeuble said that if Greece did not want a new aid program, "then that's it," adding to a chorus of warnings from European policymakers urging Athens to seek an extension to the program when it expires at the end of the month.

Tsipras - whose tough stance has the backing of 75 percent of Greeks according to an opinion poll - said he was confident the two sides would reach an agreement. But there was little sign of progress in bridging differences ahead of crunch meetings of euro zone finance ministers on Wednesday and EU leaders on Thursday when assistance to Athens beyond February will be discussed.

Hours before the vote, the European Commission said President Jean-Claude Juncker and Tsipras spoke on the phone in a "positive spirit of cooperation," seeking to calm rising alarm in Western capitals at the risk of a Greek exit from the single currency area that could trigger wider financial instability.

However, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis refused to rule out a standoff with his country's creditors. "We're not seeking a clash. We will do everything to avoid it," he told parliament, but added: "If you're not willing to even consider a clash, you're not negotiating."   Continued...

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras listens to the speech of Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis (not pictured) before a vote of confidence at the parliament in Athens February 10, 2015. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis