NEWS

PM prepares for troika

With Greece?s international creditors expected to send auditors back to Athens by the end of the week, Prime Minister Lucas Papademos is to meet the leaders of the three parties in his fractious coalition government in a bid to establish a broad consensus on tough reforms being demanded in exchange for the biggest chunk of rescue aid yet, a sum of 89 billion euros.

Papademos is to have his first meeting on Monday afternoon with Antonis Samaras, the chief of conservative New Democracy, which is leading in opinion polls, and will hold talks with Socialist PASOK leader George Papandreou and the head of the right-wing Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), Giorgos Karatzaferis, in coming days.

The aim is to forge a united front on ongoing austerity ahead of the arrival of officials from the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, known collectively as the troika.

Karatzaferis, who has accused the two larger parties of lacking seriousness, reportedly sent a letter to Papademos asking for a session of party leaders to be convened by President Karolos Papoulias with Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos.

The main points of contention are the creditors? intensifying demands for the opening of closed professions and the lowering of the minimum wage — now 751 euros. ND also objects to plans to merge auxiliary pension funds.

The delays that have been caused by these doubts continue to concern troika officials, who are due to return to Athens on January 16. Sources told Kathimerini that the troika will not return until the government has pushed through a series of reforms.

A bill opening up closed professions ranging from lawyers to truck drivers along with other measures is to be submitted in Parliament Tuesday and is expected to be voted on by the end of the week.

Another piece of legislation, relieving private companies of the obligation to raise workers? salaries by 2.6 percent in July and cutting holiday bonuses by partially incorporating them in monthly wages, have angered labor unions but may please the troika.

But there is evidence of growing doubts within the IMF about the outlook for Greece. As talks on a write-down for holders of Greek debt enter the final strait, Olivier Blanchard, the Fund?s chief economist, has said that haircuts might have to be larger than the anticipated 50 percent. ?The numbers are not good,? Blanchard told CNBC TV on Friday.

Meanwhile German news magazine Der Spiegel invoked an internal IMF document expressing doubts about Greece?s ability to tackle its huge debt and predicting the need for new austerity measures to avert default.