Talks on Monday night between Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his coalition partners, PASOK chief Evangelos Venizelos and Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis, failed to resolve an internal rift over a contentious anti-racism bill though the dispute was not expected to threaten the cohesion of the administration.
“There was no political agreement,” Venizelos said as he left the Maximos Mansion. He added that conservative New Democracy “must be convinced” to submit the bill, which is aimed at imposing tougher penalties on racial hatred, to Parliament. He emphasized his preference for the legislation to have the backing of all three parties in the coalition but said that if ND continues to object, PASOK would submit its own anti-racism bill.
The current bill, which the main leftist opposition party SYRIZA has indicated it will support, is intended to rein in the growing popularity of the ultra-right Golden Dawn which has been linked to an increase in racist attacks. Venizelos said Greece had an obligation as a European Union member state to enforce “a comprehensive legislative framework to tackle racism.”
In a bid to remind ND that it shares power in a coalition with two other parties, Venizelos remarked that “there is no government without a parliamentary majority.”
Kouvelis echoed the PASOK leader, stressing that the bill must go to Parliament without delay. He expressed exasperation at an “unacceptable” report issued by a parliamentary committee just two hours before the meeting which deemed that Greece’s existing legal framework is sufficient and requires no new anti-racism legislation. The committee, which is dominated by members of ND, also concluded that some provisions of the bill violate the constitution.
Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou, who usually speaks for the premier after such meetings, made no comment. Sources indicated, however, that Samaras insisted that the bill should not be signed off until it has been “improved.” The sources said fresh talks were likely on Thursday.
Venizelos and Kouvelis both said they want the legislation sent to the House immediately, with changes reserved for the subsequent debate. They also repeated calls for the creation of a cross-party coordinating committee.