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Greek coalition confident as reform multi-bill goes to Parliament

People line up outside a pharmacy in central Athens that was on duty on Friday. Pharmacists have been on strike for several days and have vowed to continue their action unless the government withdraws a provision for the deregulation of the over-the-counter drug market.

A brief debate on the multi-bill of reform measures submitted to Parliament on Friday night will begin on Saturday before a vote late on Sunday, when the government is expecting all of its MPs to back the legislation and move Greece a step closer to unlocking the next tranche of bailout funding, which could reach as much as 11.9 billion euros.

The troika considers liberalization and other reform measures included in the omnibus bill as prerequisites for Greece to receive further funding and, according to sources, the European Commission’s representative in the triumvirate, Matthias Mors, wrote to the coalition on Friday to remind it that any changes to the legislation could lead to Greece’s recent agreement with its lenders being scrapped.

The government has come under pressure from its own MPs and professional groups over a number of provisions in the three articles that make up the multi-bill. However, only minor adjustments have been made, with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras insisting that Greece stands to benefit from passing the bill as it would lead to eurozone finance ministers, who meet in Athens on Tuesday, agreeing to release the next loan installment and then discussing further debt relief.

PASOK leader and Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos preached a similar message when he met with Socialist MPs on Friday. He described the multi-bill as “the last agreement before the exit from the crisis.”

He also accused SYRIZA of acting as “fifth-columnists” and “sucking up to the troika” because the leftists doubted Greece’s primary surplus and wanted the country’s lenders to do the same.

The response from the opposition party was equally forceful. SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras said that if his party came to power, it would withdraw all the provisions in the bill, which he described as “barbarous,” and put on trial for “criminal breach of faith” those involved in compiling the legislation.

One of the areas Tsipras focused on was a change in legislation that allows the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund to participate in banks’ capital share increases even if the price is lower than what the recapitalization fund paid when it purchased a stake in the lenders last year. “The government has agreed with the troika to give away the banks to foreign funds,” he said in Parliament.

There were also complaints from professional groups. Pharmacists, who launched a strike on Wednesday, led the way. The head of their association, Kyriakos Theodosiadis, said they would launch legal action in Greek and European courts against the bill, which removes almost all the restrictions on who can open a pharmacy and where. “They are favoring the supermarket cartel and putting a nail in the pharmacists’ coffin,” he said.

Only 50 of some 3,500 pharmacies in Attica opened on Friday, resulting in large queues at the stores that were open.

ekathimerini.com , Friday March 28, 2014 (20:13)  
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