A highly controversial news leak of planned pension cuts prompted a top Greek judge to retire early in protest.
The drama comes against the backdrop of Greece’s response to its long-running economic problems, which led to a string of multi-billion euro bailouts. The Council of State, one of the nation’s highest courts, has the ultimate approval on the pension cuts.
Judge Nikos Sakellariou, who sits on the Council of State, announced he was leaving his post after the “recent violation of confidentiality” about the plan. In remarks to reporters, the judge, who is a skeptic of harsh pension cuts, objected to the “disruption [the leaks] caused to the entire Greek society.”
He added that the “unthinkable and unacceptable violation of judicial secrecy” had largely diminished the credibility and prestige of the council, and that it no longer allowed him to continue his job functions with “proper calm and sobriety.”
His departure, however, was only a few weeks ahead of his planned exit of his 42-year career, reports Reuters.
The recently leaked cuts were planned for 2019, and could shrink retirement benefits by another 18% on top of previous reductions. Elderly pensioners have been protesting the austerity measures in Athens regularly. Some are now hoping for the council to oppose the proposed cuts.
The courts have approved previous slicing of retirement payouts, according to Greek newspapers. For instance, they upheld lowering the Greek version of Social Security. The measures raised social security contributions while also cutting benefits.
Greece has been slashing the benefits of its aging workforce since 2010 to offset the first of its three bailouts from the European Union: In 2010 the bailout was for €110 billion euros, or $129.8 billion; in 2012, €130 billion; and 2015, €86 billion. The cuts have knocked roughly half of Greece’s retired population below the poverty line to nearly €600 per month, Reuters said.
On top of that, almost one-quarter of Greece’s workforce is unemployed, causing the pension money to become the only source of income for some families.
Once the worst-rated pension system in the world, Greece has recently improved, although slowly. It currently ranks as the eighth–weakest. The pension debt is 9% of GDP, The Guardian wrote.
Should the court vote in favor of the latest reduction, Sakellariou predicted the move would be “the complete deprivation of all pensioners.”