Coalition partners in last-ditch bid to mend gov’t rift

Party leaders to meet again on ERT with PM set to make fresh proposal

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his coalition partners, PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and Fotis Kouvelis of Democratic Left (DIMAR), are to meet at 6 p.m. on Wednesday for crucial talks aimed at bridging a rift over the closure of state broadcaster ERT that has put the future of the government in doubt.

Until late on Tuesday, aides to Prime Minister Antonis Samaras were working on proposals that would avert the risk of snap elections by restoring the signal of the state broadcaster – which the two coalition partners have strenuously demanded – without going back on pledges to foreign creditors for permanent layoffs in the civil service.

According to sources, the final proposal foresees the rehiring of all 2,600 dismissed ERT employees on fixed-term contracts that would allow them to work for another two months – the estimated period of transition from ERT to a new, streamlined state broadcaster. The proposal was reportedly sent to PASOK and DIMAR and, although there were no official reactions, the general sense was that it could provide the basis of a settlement.

Earlier on Tuesday, a leaked proposal from Samaras’s camp foreseeing the hiring of a skeleton staff of 30 to 100 employees to run the temporary broadcasts reportedly prompted the anger of the junior coalition partners.

Both PASOK and DIMAR have insisted that ERT must reopen before its restructuring can begin while New Democracy counters that ERT is defunct. In accordance with their different positions, the parties have different interpretations of a Council of State ruling, issued late on Monday, according to which the government had the right to close ERT but not to cut the broadcaster’s signal.

Sources said earlier in the day that Kouvelis was furious with Samaras for refusing to reopen ERT following the ruling, deeming this a “direct provocation.” “As long as ERT remains closed, the risk of early elections remains and is the exclusive responsibility of the premier,” a DIMAR official said. The stance of PASOK remained that ERT must reopen as soon as possible.

Meanwhile there was heated speculation about whether the coalition leaders will be able to find a way out of the deadlock.

“I hope those handling the situation are sensible,” said former Premier Costas Simitis.