Stournaras seeks German approval

Finance Minister to face Schaeuble as gov?t wrestles with austerity package

As officials of the three parties in the coalition government continue their efforts to sign off on an 11.5-billion-euro package of austerity measures, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras is on Tuesday due to present the blueprint, and Greece?s plans for reforms and privatization, to his German counterpart Wolfgang Schaeuble in Berlin.

The visit comes ahead of the scheduled arrival in Athens on Friday of representatives of Greece?s foreign creditors, the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund (known as the troika), whose subsequent review will determine whether or not Greece receives a vital 31.5-billion-euro tranche of rescue funding. A day before the crucial meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed support for Greece and other debt-ridden EU states while insisting that agreed-to reforms must be implemented. ?In such a difficult phase, these countries have earned our solidarity,? Merkel said. But the German public appears unmoved, with only a quarter believing the country should remain in the eurozone, according to a poll published by the Financial Times.

In his talks with Schaeuble, Stournaras is expected to repeat Greece?s argument -- that a deep recession has hampered reforms -- and to sound him out on a possible two-year extension to Greece?s fiscal adjustment period.

Back in Athens, government officials are continuing talks on austerity. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his coalition partners -- PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and Democratic Left chief Fotis Kouvelis -- are to meet on Wednesday or Thursday to rubber-stamp the blueprint before the arrival of troika chiefs on Friday, when European Council President Herman Van Rompuy is also due here.

According to sources, troika officials are expected to reject planned cuts to defense and public administration, possibly calling for further pension cuts. Government officials are said to have expressed concern about the social impact of too much austerity. But an e-mail sent by the troika to Athens last week reportedly proposes further reductions to the minimum wage and to compensation given by employers in the private sector.

As for proposed cuts to the so-called special salaries of certain categories of civil servants, these are to range from 6 percent to 35 percent, Kathimerini understands, with police getting the smallest cuts and judges the largest.