The proposed agreement between the government and the Church of Greece will "change a great many things", Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Thursday in a televised interview with Alpha TV during the channel's evening news programme.
"It is a historic step forward, with which we come to resolve outstanding problems going back decades," he said.
The deal agreed with Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos a few days earlier, he added, will free up 10,000 positions in the public sector that the government can proceed to fill in areas where there was a need.
Regarding the new Fund for the Exploitation of Church Assets, he said that this would include all disputed Church properties but also non-disputed properties handed over voluntarily. From the proceeds of this fund, which will begin operating immediately, the Greek state expects to be able to cover a large part of the subsidy it will give to cover the salaries of the clergy up until 2030, the prime minister said.
The prime minister said that the proclamation of the 10,000 new positions will take place in 2019 so that they can start to be covered from 2020 onward. He noted that the 1:1 hirings to departures ratio was firmly established and meant that the state could take on an additional 10,000 public-sector workers.
If one added an estimated 8,000-8,500 annual departures from the public sector (through retirement etc), Tsipras said, as well as an additional 7,500 recently announced for 2019 because the required funds had been found (4,500 in special education, 3,000 for 'Help at Home' programme), this meant that 16,000 can be hired in key roles in the public sector in 2019 and another 18,500 in 2020.
"No historic step is taken without reactions; when you head for a compromise both sides take a step back in order to take many steps forward," Tsipras said. History will finally record the steps forward, not the shouts of protest, he added.
According to the prime minister, the agreement will be mutually beneficial for both the Church and state, both financially and in other ways, and could be seen as a "miracle of good will" that resolved an issue that had remained pending for 79 years.
Only if Mitsotakis is elected will pensioners not get what's due to them
On the government's policy, including court decisions to pay back cut pensions, the prime minister underlined the government's commitment to help the weakest in society and correct injustices.
"Despite the doom-mongering laid at our door, we brought positive measures without cuts," he noted, saying the government was delivering "more than what I announced at the Thessaloniki International Fair".
He accused the opposition of behaving like an arsonist that complains that the fire brigade is too slow in putting out the fires he set, adding that the only case where pensioners would not see the injustice against them redressed was if New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis was elected to power.
Commenting on SYRIZA's proposals for revising the Constitution, Tsipras said the main goal was to make the election of the president independent of parliament's term.
SYRIZA will win; general elections in October 2019
Tsipras said he was confident that the ruling coalition leader SYRIZA will emerge victorious in both the upcoming European elections and in the parliamentary elections, which he said will be held in October 2019.
"This is my goal, what I want and I will succeed," he said and predicted that ND's current lead in opinion polls will "backfire" and see the opposition trailing behind in the Euro-elections.
He also expressed his certainty that the Prespes Agreement will be ratified in the Greek Parliament "because every last one of the citizens understands that, in spite of the difficulties, in spite of the problems, this agreement is beneficial for the country and especially for northern Greece and Thessaloniki."
Party briefing before expansion of territorial waters
The prime minister commented on the announcement that Greece plans to eventually extend its territorial waters to the 12-mile limit, made during the handover of the foreign ministry from Nikos Kotzias, saying that this had been done "in an awkward way" since the political parties should have been informed first.
He added that the tactic but not the strategy on this issue was changing and that he would now first brief the parties, while the extension would not be done through presidential decrees but a vote in Parliament.
In a message to neighbouring Turkey, Tsipras also noted that Greece neither threatened anyone, nor was it threatened.
"We are open to dialogue but will not give up any of our sovereign rights," he added, announcing that preparations were being made for him to visit to Istanbul at the invitation of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, though no date has yet been set.