Pressure to find consenus

Prime Minister Lucas Papademos will attempt over the next few days to tiptoe through a political minefield littered with disputes within and between parties in an attempt to get the full support of the three members of his coalition government for the structural reforms needed to unlock further loans from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

It is not clear if Papademos will meet Thursday or Friday with PASOK?s George Papandreou, New Democracy?s Antonis Samaras and Giorgos Karatzaferis of the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS). One of the reasons for the delay is that PASOK?s parliamentary group is due to meet Thursday afternoon and there is a possibility Socialist MPs will attempt to oust Papandreou.

Health Minister Andreas Loverdos?s decision to back Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos for the PASOK leadership may generate more pressure on Papandreou to step down immediately rather than wait for a poll on March 18.

Papademos wants to obtain the clear support from all three leaders for the measures that are being demanded by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF, or troika. The coalition parties have already expressed objections to potential cuts to private sector wages and supplementary pensions.

Sources said that the prime minister is unlikely to ask for written commitments from Papandreou, Samaras and Karatzaferis.

Government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis said Wednesday that agreement between the coalition leaders would pave the way for Papademos to wrap up negotiations with the troika. Greece hopes that this will then clear the way for the Eurogroup of finance ministers to discuss the new bailout package when they convene on Monday.

Kapsis expressed concern about the tension between the three parties, emphasized by ND and LAOS walking out of Parliament on Tuesday night during a debate about proposals to ease overcrowding in Greek jails by shortening sentences for some crimes. ND and LAOS opposed the bill and their departure forced Justice Minister Miltiadis Papaioannou to withdraw it.

?We are at a crucial stage of developments, close to a major agreement, and we do not have the luxury to let issues like this derail our efforts to achieve our main goal,? said Kapsis.

However, Karatzaferis claimed Wednesday that he would quit the interim government if a bill to decriminalize drugs, drawn up by the previous PASOK administration, is brought to Parliament.