Prime Minister Antonis Samaras potentially staked the future of his coalition government on Tuesday on a decision to shut down public broadcaster ERT and dismiss some 2,700 employees, a choice that did not have the approval of his coalition partners and was met with derision from opposition parties and TV and radio employees.
Although there had been rumors over the past few days that the government would opt for closing ERT as a way to reduce civil servant numbers, Tuesday’s announcement by spokesman Simos Kedikoglou took millions of Greeks by surprise. Kedikoglou claimed that ERT suffered from a “lack of transparency” and was a source of waste.
“The Greek people are paying for ERT, which has three times, even eight times, as much staff as it needs,” he said. The government, he said, was sacrificing one of the public sector’s “sacred cows.” Greeks pay roughly 300 million euros a year in license fees for ERT that are levied through their electricity bills. Kedikoglou said that these charges would not apply until a leaner and more efficient public broadcaster is set up.
Sources told Kathimerini that Samaras had discussed the closure of ERT with several close advisers and government officials and saw the move as one that would show his determination to carry out the structural reforms being demanded by Greece’s lenders.
Kathimerini also understands that the premier brought up the issue with his coalition partners, Evangelos Venizelos of PASOK and Fotis Kouvelis of Democratic Left, when the trio met on Monday. Venizelos and Kouvelis refused to give their consent for ERT to be closed down even though Greece has promised the troika it would sack 2,000 civil servants this summer, 4,000 by the end of the year and 14,000 by the end of 2014. The ministers from the two junior parties did not sign the legislative act published in the Government Gazette yesterday allowing public enterprises to be shut down.
The announcement prompted terse responses from both coalition partners, who said they had not been involved in the decision, and sharp criticism from opposition parties. “The state broadcaster cannot be closed down,” PASOK said in a statement, adding that the party supported “bold and genuine reforms” but opposed “irresponsible and dangerous public relations stunts.” PASOK spokesman Yiannis Maniatis also slammed conservative New Democracy for sidelining the junior partners. “A coalition government comprising three partners cannot function through faits accomplis,“ Maniatis said, adding that “important matters must be decided by all party leaders.”
Democratic Left, for its part, issued a statement saying that it “radically disagreed” with the closure of ERT, adding that it was “inconceivable” for a European country not to have a state television channel, even for an hour.
SYRIZA leader, Alexis Tsipras, called on both coalition partners to take “a clear position” on the move, which he described as “a coup d’etat” and said his party was considering bringing a censure motion against the government if it goes ahead with the closure.