NEWS

Reform bills to be debated for longer

Plans to overhaul the way that the public transport network is run and to open up closed professions will not be compromised but the government will allow Parliament ample time to debate the legislation that will pave the way for these reforms, Prime Minister George Papandreou has told his ministers, according to sources.

The government was heavily criticized by opposition deputies, PASOK MPs, unions and some of the media for submitting a recent bill reforming labor laws and reducing wages at public enterprises as emergency legislation, which meant that the House had hardly any time to debate it. This was seen as a snub to parliamentarians and the people that elected them, given that the draft law was such a significant piece of legislation.

It appears that Papandreou has now warned the Cabinet that the government cannot run the risk of following this tactic again. Sources said he had told ministers, who are preparing more key bills, to ensure that Parliament will not feel that it is being ignored.

The premier will be hoping that apart from appeasing his critics, this will also help quell unrest within PASOK. The head of the Socialist party?s parliamentary group, Christos Protopappas, suggested as much on Tuesday. ?Bills have to follow a process,? he said. ?We are not a production line for legislation and what people have to understand is that a bill has to mature and be debated so that a difficult political decision can be explained and be understood by the Greek people.?

Papandreou, however, made it clear to his ministers that the government would not back down on any of the reforms that it has promised the European Union and the International Monetary Fund it will make.

Transport Minister Dimitris Reppas underlined the government?s determination to proceed with its plan by confirming that the number of companies managing public transport in Athens would be merged from five into two. His deputy minister, Spyros Vougias, said that the public transport sector would be liberalized by 2019.

This is one of the reasons for public transport employees holding another day of stoppages on Wednesday. There will be no bus, trolley bus, metro, tram or electric railway services between 5 and 8 a.m. and from 10 p.m. onward. A 24-hour strike may take place on New Year?s Day.