ATHENS — The acute economic crisis that has gripped Greece for weeks eased markedly Thursday as European officials dismantled key obstacles to desperately needed loans and the country’s banks prepared to reopen Monday, three weeks after locking their doors.
The positive signals came hours after Greece’s Parliament reluctantly approved austerity measures required as a condition of a $96 billion bailout deal, the country’s third financial rescue in five years. The agreement split the country’s ruling party, and the prime minister warned that the stringent measures would unleash new pain on a population already suffering from the worst downturn in any developed nation since World War II.
But Parliament’s endorsement won rare praise from European creditors and gave them a reason to lift — at least for now — the threat of economic oblivion that has hung over Greece for nearly a month.
The most tangible sign of reprieve is set to come Monday, when Greek banks are to open for the first time since June 29, Deputy Finance Minister Dimitris Mardas told state television Thursday evening.
“All bank branches will be open,” he said.
That would ease but not eliminate the hardship that Greeks have endured for weeks as the banking system flirted with ruin. Greeks would still be limited to withdrawing 60 euros a day from their accounts — about $67 — but they would not need to line up at ATMs each day to do so. Instead, the daily limit would be cumulative, meaning savers could wait a week and withdraw seven days’ worth of cash in one go.
Stringent controls on transfers of money abroad are expected to remain, leaving in place a measure that has choked imports and led to shortages of certain foods and medicines.
The path to a reopening was cleared after the European Central Bank (ECB) announced it would offer Greek lenders $980 million in aid, giving them critical breathing room.
In other signs of a thaw after months of bitter deadlock, euro-zone finance ministers announced that they were ready to begin technical negotiations on the details of the broader bailout. That process could take several weeks.
In the meantime, they signaled Thursday that they have found a way to provide Greece with the short-term loans needed to cover its most pressing debts, including a Monday payment to the ECB.
Mario Draghi, the central bank’s president, said he expected that Greece would get the aid it needs in time to pay its $3.8 billion tab. Only days ago, Greece was confronted with the threat of a euro-zone exit if it missed that crucial deadline. But in a midday news conference, Draghi suggested Greece’s membership in the currency group was no longer in doubt.
“Our mandate is to act based on the assumption that Greece is and will be a member of the euro area,” Draghi said.
Not everyone was so bullish. In Finland, the government gave its backing to fresh loans for Greece, defying predictions that it could emerge as a hard-line holdout. But Finance Minister Alexander Stubb said creditors will be watching carefully to see if Greece implements the belt-tightening measures it has promised.
“We need the political will of the Greek government, which still seems to be a little bit lacking,” Stubb said in an interview. “The prime minister says that he doesn’t actually believe in the program that we’ve been working on for so long.”
Greece’s leaders say there’s good reason for that, accusing Europe’s political heavyweights of using economic blackmail to try to force the country’s radical leftist government from office.
Even with the bailout deal solidifying, the Greek government’s position is highly precarious. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras won parliamentary support for the agreement in the wee hours of Thursday morning. But it came at a heavy cost to his own party, Syriza, with dozens of members bucking his will. Tsipras had to rely on his political opponents to ram the measure through Parliament.
The mutiny confronted Tsipras with hard choices over how to handle his onetime allies. He huddled with top advisers for hours Thursday evening amid reports that he was preparing to purge the dissidents. That didn’t happen, but it still could in the coming days.
Tsipras will ultimately have to decide whether to try to muddle along with a fractured government, reach out to opponents to forge a broader coalition or resign and call new elections.
In the strongest signal yet that the last option is a real prospect, Greece’s interior minister, Nikos Voutsis, predicted in a radio interview that a new vote could be held as early as September — just nine months after Syriza came to power.
Government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis played down expectations that new elections could come even sooner. While acknowledging a “notable breach” in party unity, he said Tsipras would not step down before he finalizes the bailout deal with creditors.
“The main priority of the prime minister and the government is to successfully conclude the agreement,” he said.