Wed Mar 18, 2015 7:38AM
Declan Costello, the director at the European Commission (EC)’s directorate for economic and financial affairs
Declan Costello, the director at the European Commission (EC)’s directorate for economic and financial affairs

A European Commission (EC) official has demanded that Greece not pass an anti-poverty bill that would provide free electricity to the country’s poorest, prompting a sharp response from Athens, a report says.

The Tuesday report by British Channel 4 said Declan Costello, the head of the EC’s directorate for economic and financial affairs, told the Greek government in a letter not to proceed with the parliamentary vote.

The anti-poverty bill, set to be passed by the Greek parliament (seen below) on Thursday, would provide not only free electricity to the country’s poorest households but also provide them with food stamps and allow installment payments of tax arrears.

In the letter addressed to Athens, Costello said that, “During our teleconference last night, you mentioned the planned parliament passage tomorrow of the ‘humanitarian crisis’ bill…We would strongly urge having the proper policy consultations first, including consistency with reform efforts.”

“There are several issues to be discussed and we need to do them as a coherent and comprehensive package,” Costello added.

The EC official continued by saying that if the Greek parliament passed the bill, it would violate a compromise deal signed by Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis last month in Brussels.

“Doing otherwise would be proceeding unilaterally and in a piecemeal manner that is inconsistent with the commitments made, including to the Eurogroup as stated in the February 20 communiqué,” said Costello.

In response, a Greek government source criticized the letter, saying, “If in 2015 in Europe the fight against a humanitarian crisis is considered a unilateral decision, what then remains of European values?”

Under the deal, eurozone finance ministers granted Greece a four-month extension of its international bailout to avert the possibility of the country’s exit from the currency area. But Athens will not receive the cash until eurozone partners approve a list of reform measures proposed by Greece.

The current Greek government is seeking to revise the terms of the country’s €240-billion ($270-billion) bailout it received from the troika of international lenders following the 2009 economic crisis under a previous government.

CAH/HJL/HRB