Venizelos senses opportunity for consenus

In an attempt to build on the political consensus surrounding this week?s university reforms, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos on Friday called for Greece?s parties to show similar understanding on economic policy despite admitting that the economy will shrink by more than 4.5 percent this year.

Speaking in Parliament, Venizelos attempted to strike a note of harmony as he delivered ominous news about Greece?s economic prospects.

?We need a common national line,? he said. ?We are shooting ourselves in the foot by creating a climate of fear and insecurity in which nobody will invest. Consensus, even if it is by small steps helps the country.?

Venizelos was responding to criticism of the government?s economic policies from Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), who accused the finance minister of sticking to an austerity program ?that will lead to catastrophe.?

Tsipras also decried Venizelos?s assertion that he would attempt to ?renegotiate? Greece?s macroeconomic targets with its lenders after admitting that Athens is unlikely to meet its goals for this year. The government had been aiming for a budget deficit of 7.6 percent of GDP this year from 10.5 last year.

?Hell cannot be renegotiated because it is hell,? said Tsipras. ?The medium-term fiscal plan will lead us to social bankruptcy.?

Venizelos, who also admitted that this year?s recession would be deeper than previously expected and that growth would not be certain next year either, told Tsipras that there was still hope for Greece.

?Between hell and paradise, there is purgatory,? he said. ?When you are there you have the hope that if you behave appropriately, you will go to heaven. This is where we are now.?

Commentators pointed out that apart from the exchange with Tsipras, there was little criticism of Venizelos and the government, particularly from the ranks of New Democracy and the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS). Tsipras reacted to the apparent silence from the conservative and nationalist parties by saying ?something is cooking here.?

Sources said SYRIZA and the Communist Party (KKE) believe that PASOK, ND and LAOS are aiming to find more common ground as a precursor to forming a coalition government.