PM prepares for renewed bid to win over ministers

Prime Minister George Papandreou will pick up where he left off after the Easter holidays by meeting with ministers on Tuesday to discuss the government?s privatization plan and its efforts to save more money.

As Papandreou headed for a short break on the island of Hydra, he was given an unexpected boost by renewed infighting at New Democracy after the conservative party?s spokesman, Yiannis Michelakis, criticized former Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis for carrying out an audit of public finances when ND replaced PASOK in power in March 2004.

The row over Michelakis?s comments will undoubtedly rumble on into next week, when Papandreou will resume talks aimed at overcoming ministers? objections to the sale of some state assets. Among those who have shared their reservations about the plans to raise 50 billion euros by 2015 are Citizens? Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis and Environment Minister Tina Birbili.

Papandreou will also have to convince his Cabinet about the need for further public spending cuts and revenue-raising measures, which are designed to save 26 billion euros by 2015. Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou has shown concern at another 300 million euros being cut from her budget.

Papandreou?s worries are likely to have been eased by the unrest caused within ND by Michelakis?s comments on Thursday. The spokesman has been involved in a war of words this week with Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos over comments the latter made during a visit to Turkey, labeling Greece ?lazy? over its attempts to reform the public sector in the past. ?What Pangalos is doing now is as criminal as what Papandreou and [Finance Minister George] Papaconstantinou have done by defaming the country abroad and as catastrophic as the audit by Alogoskoufis,? he said.

The comment prompted a reaction from people close to the former minister and MPs still loyal to ex-Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis. They pointed out that ND had committed to the audit, which led to Greece?s deficit figure being revised upward, in its election manifesto and that the European Union had asked for the revised figures. Michalakis?s comments were deemed an attempt by the party under its current leader, Antonis Samaras, to distance itself from the Karamanlis years.

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