NEWS

PM seeks to rally party leaders

With the scheduled return of foreign auditors to Athens looming, Prime Minister Lucas Papademos is reportedly considering calling another joint session of the party leaders in his fragile coalition in a bid to drum up political consensus ahead of tough negotiations on the conditions of a second bailout for Greece.

According to sources, Papademos has not ruled out the idea of a joint session of party leaders under President Karolos Papoulias. The premier is expected to decide on the matter after a scheduled meeting with his predecessor and the leader of Socialist PASOK, George Papandreou, on Saturday when a session of PASOK?s political council is to conclude.

On Tuesday, Papademos received the head of the right-wing Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), Giorgos Karatzaferis. Uncharacteristically, Karatzaferis made no public statements following the meeting, fueling rumors that he is considering withdrawing his four LAOS officials — one minister and two deputy ministers — from the Cabinet.

According to sources, the right-wing leader asked Papademos to reshuffle and slim down his Cabinet to make it more efficient. He also reportedly asked the premier to call a summit of party leaders to establish a united front ahead of the arrival of officials from the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, known as the troika. Karatzaferis has not spoken out stridently against reforms demanded by creditors.

Antonis Samaras, leader of the conservative New Democracy party, which is leading in the opinion polls and who met Papademos on Monday, has appeared less flexible, opposing the planned reduction of the minimum wage along with cuts to auxiliary pensions.

Sources in the premier?s office said on Tuesday that auxiliary pensions could not be spared as the country?s creditors are piling on the pressure for reforms to be pushed through. A catchall bill — which foresees the lifting of restrictions on a series of closed professions and the merging of state entities, among other things — was submitted in Parliament on Tuesday and is to be voted on by the end of next week.

Late on Monday French President Nicolas Sarkozy reportedly emphasized, during a telephone call with Papademos, the importance of reforms being implemented if Greece?s second bailout is to be secured. Sarkozy was reportedly more upbeat on the progress of negotiations between the Greek government and private creditors on a debt swap (known as PSI).