NEWS

Papandreou looks to set down reforms marker

September promises to be a challenging month for the government as it seeks to improve public finances, convince its lenders to keep loaning it money and to introduce further fiscal reforms, so in a bid to get the public on his side, Prime Minister George Papandreou on Wednesday asked a couple of his ministers to proceed with legislation that could garner voter support.

During Wednesday?s Cabinet meeting, Papandreou gave Health Minister Andreas Loverdos the green light to reduce the number of doctors working for social security funds and to limit their wages. Loverdos will create a single pay structure for the doctors who work five funds, including Greece?s largest, IKA. He will set a wage ceiling of 2,500 euros and the salary each doctor receives will be linked to the number of patients that they see.

Papandreou also approved Transport Minister Yiannis Ragousis?s taxi liberalization plan, removing barriers to new drivers joining the profession.

Sources said that although Papandreou is aware that both groups will react to the measures with protests and possibly strikes, the government feels that there will be little public sympathy for either doctors or cabbies. Taxi drivers tested the public?s patience earlier this summer when they went on strike for almost three weeks over Ragousis?s plans. Both sides then took a step back amid concern about the impact the action was having on tourism but their dispute will have to be settled this month.

Sources added that the prime minister wants the decisions relating to the social security fund doctors and the taxi drivers to be taken before he delivers his economic policy speech at the Thessaloniki International Fair on September 10. He hopes this will signal his intent to push through a number of contentious reforms this fall.

Papandreou, meanwhile, described as ?criminally damaging? to the government?s work any suggestions that it is prepared to form a coalition with New Democracy.

Conservative leader Antonis Samaras had the chance to present his views to Greece?s lenders on Wednesday when he met with representatives of the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund. Sources said that Samaras highlighted how every economic indicator in Greece had worsened since the troika arrived in May 2009.