Coalition faces test of its unity over ERT closure

The leaders of the three parties that make up Greece’s coalition go into a meeting on Monday – which coincides with the one-year anniversary of their election – in desperate need of a compromise over the future of national broadcaster ERT or they face the possibility of not being able to continue governing.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras made a bid on Friday night to settle the dispute with coalition partners PASOK and Democratic Left over ERT’s sudden closure. He proposed that a cross-party committee be set up next week to begin hiring a skeleton staff so the new broadcaster that will replace ERT can start transmitting some programs.

His proposal, however, was rejected and Samaras may have to come up with a new suggestion this afternoon when he meets with Evangelos Venizelos and Fotis Kouvelis. A Council of State ruling may yet provide a way out for the coalition. It is due to decide on Monday whether to hear an appeal from ERT staff, which could lead to judges ordering the broadcaster to resume service until a final verdict is issued.

PASOK sources said late on Friday that the premier’s idea did not correspond to the party’s public position on the issue, which is that ERT should resume normal service and that the coalition members should agree on how to restructure the organization.

Speaking to The Associated Press on Saturday, Democratic Left leader Kouvelis said he was not willing to accept an “intermediate” solution. “ERT is in need of reform but ERT must remain open,” he said.

Kouvelis admitted that there was friction within the coalition over a range of issues but said that none of its participants wanted snap elections.

A poll by Metron Analysis for Ependytis newspaper found that 68 percent disagreed with the decision to shut down ERT. Also, 49 percent said the coalition government should remain in place but 47 percent said having snap elections would be preferable. In terms of the parties’ popularity, the opinion poll had New Democracy and SYRIZA neck and neck. The conservatives had 20.2 percent of support and the leftists 20 percent.

The turbulence created by the ERT decision has also sparked speculation about Samaras’s future. It has been reported that his position within New Democracy might be insecure. On Saturday, Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos issued a statement on ERT, a move which will be regarded by some as the ex-Athens mayor differentiating his position from that of the prime minister, who has been highly critical of the service and its staff. Avramopoulos said that the public broadcaster could not be excluded from the overhaul of the civil service and that its employees alone were not responsible for it becoming outdated.

Avramopoulos said that Samaras’s offer to start broadcasts from the new ERT with basic staff as soon as possible was “brave and significant.”

“We have a duty to avoid suffering an asymmetric blow that will damage everyone’s collective effort to get Greece out of the crisis,” he said. “At this moment, it is paramount there is unity, prudence and vision.”