Third meeting of party leaders in less than a week aims to clinch agreement on ERT, power-sharing

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his coalition partners, PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and Fotis Kouvelis of Democratic Left, are to meet at 8.30 p.m. for the third attempt in less than a week to resolve a dispute sparked over the closure of state broadcaster ERT after a three-and-a-half-hour meeting Wednesday failed to yield a compromise.

In statements delivered from their respective party headquarters after the talks with Samaras, the junior partners both repeated their demands for ERT to reopen immediately and for its signal to be restored so that broadcasting can resume. They also called for a reassessment of the basis of the tripartite administration’s policy program agreement.

“It’s important that an agreement is reached for the immediate enforcement of the court’s decision and the restoration of broadcasting,” Venizelos said. He was referring to Monday’s ruling by the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, demanding the restoration of the state broadcaster’s signal. The PASOK leader also emphasized the need for any agreement reached by the coalition leaders “to provide a boost to the government with a revised policy program,” he said.

Kouvelis covered similar ground in his statement, insisting that the state broadcaster start airing immediately while also calling for an overhaul of governance. “The three-party government must express the common position of all three parties,” he said.

The fact that neither Venizelos nor Kouvelis said the word “ERT” – they both referred to “the public broadcaster” – was broadly seen as a concession toward the stance of Samaras, who wants a transitional service to operate before the new broadcaster is set up.

There was little comment from ND’s camp after the talks Wednesday, with government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou describing the meeting as “a complex discussion that will continue tomorrow.”

Earlier Wednesday, both PASOK and Democratic Left had pursued a very tough line on ERT, insisting that it must reopen before any restructuring can be carried out and that the majority of the broadcaster’s staff be rehired. Meanwhile aides close to Samaras scrambled to draft alternative scenarios for a “transitional service” to replace ERT until the new broadcaster is set up with a reduced staff.

As the coalition leaders met at the Maximos Mansion, some 3,000 demonstrators gathered outside ERT’s headquarters in the northeastern suburb of Aghia Paraskevi for a peaceful demonstration organized by the country’s two labor unions.

The leader of the leftist opposition party SYRIZA, Alexis Tsipras, was at the rally. “Let them understand that there can be no compromises while there are barbaric layoffs and black screens,” Tsipras said, referring to the coalition leaders.

On Thursday the Council of State, which ruled on Monday that the government had the right to shut down ERT but not to cut the broadcaster’s signal, is to convene in the wake of varying interpretations of its decision by politicians as well as legal experts.

At the behest of the court’s president, Constantinos Menoudakos, the court’s “suspensions committee” is scheduled to convene at 4 p.m. Thursday to reassess the closure of ERT. The court is not expected to issue its decision until Friday at the earliest.