A law to open up dozens of closed professions will be passed through Parliament by the end of this months, according to plans agreed on Monday by Prime Minister George Papandreou and members of his Cabinet.
The government had delayed the unveiling of the liberalization bill from before Christmas as it wanted to have a break from the pressure it was being put under by unions and the media following a series of unpopular and badly handled reforms.
However, Papandreou made it clear on Monday to a small clutch of ministers who are working on the details of the draft law that the legislation has to be ready by about January 15 so Parliament can have ample time to debate it before it is voted through. The premier appears acutely conscious of the criticism PASOK received for virtually ignoring the House last month when passing legislation on labor rights and wages at public enterprises.
The only section of the liberalization bill that still seems to be in question is that relating to pharmacies. Health Minister Andreas Loverdos is still in negotiations with pharmacists about opening up their trade. The European Union and the International Monetary Fund have asked that supermarkets be allowed to sell some medicines, which is just one of the sticking points that Loverdos has encountered in his talks with pharmacists. The minister, however, insists that he will strike a deal with them soon.
Papandreou emphasized to his ministers that in the current climate, when pensions are being cut and jobs are being lost, some professions cannot justify maintaining unrealistic privileges and barriers to entry that have the end result of pushing up prices for consumers.
Greece, as well as the EU and the IMF, hope that the opening up of more than 100 closed professions will bring prices down, make the economy more competitive and stimulate growth.
The prime minister appeared in a bullish mood on Monday, insisting that Greece would recover but that the EU would also have to address its problems in the meantime. ?We will solve our problems, we will get over our weaknesses,? he said. ?But we are in this position today because, beyond our problems, there is the problem of the eurozone and its inherent weaknesses.
?If Europe continues to fall between two stools, the pressure from the markets will continue and it will be hit by repercussions and nationalism.?