ND MPs protest pension plans

Greece’s conservative New Democracy (ND) government faced its first internal dissent over pension reform plans when 10 deputies demanded a lower retirement age for women farmers. The government is already under pressure from unions and opposition parties over efforts to overhaul the ailing pension system, expected to go bust in 15 years unless revamped. With a slim majority of 152 deputies in the 300-seat house, dissent over pensions could threaten the government’s stability and even prompt new elections. Ten conservative deputies, including some senior party members, sent a letter late on Thursday asking for the retirement age of women farmers to drop to 60 years from 65 «to rectify an inequality.» The government’s first concrete proposals on pension reform released earlier this week point toward an increase of the retirement age. «Equalizing the retirement age of the woman farmer with that of the other women workers, from 65 to 60, is an act of justice,» the deputies, all from farming constituencies, said in a letter to the Parliament, which is debating pension reforms. The request comes at a time when unions and opposition parties are holding crippling strikes and protests, accusing the government of reneging on its election promise not to raise retirement ages, increase payments and cut benefits. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis had said during the election campaign he would fix the pension system without raising age limits or contributions. Hours before the letter was sent, Karamanlis stood by his government’s reform plan and called on the party deputies to back him. «We started exactly as we had promised with a dialogue in Parliament,» Karamanlis told his deputies on Thursday. «We were very clear about our targets and positions (on the pension reform) prior to the election.» If no measures are taken, Greece’s fragmented pension system is expected to go bust due to an aging population and the long-term mismanagement of funds. Experts say actuarial deficits could reach -400 billion ($589.9 billion), twice the country’s annual economic output.