Search for cuts intensifies

Several government officials were recalled from brief summer holidays Tuesday as the coalition continues to look for ways to complete the 11.5-billion-euro savings package demanded by the troika while limiting the social impact as much as possible.

Labor Minister Yiannis Vroutsis asked members of the government?s actuarial authority to return to Athens to work on alternative scenarios for the pension cuts the three-party alliance will have to approve as part of the package.

As things stand, the government looks set to approve reductions to all pensions above 700 euros per month but to limit the cuts to the lower pensions to just 2 percent. However, given the unpopularity of such cuts, the government wants to explore all the alternatives available.

Coalition talks are due to resume on Monday with the aim of finalizing about 5 billion euros of the 11.5 billion that have yet to be agreed. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras would like to have the measures agreed before Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker visits Athens on August 22. This meeting will be followed by ones with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande later in the week.

The premier hopes that finalizing the savings will put him in a stronger negotiating position with his eurozone counterparts ahead of the crucial decisions that have to be taken next month. European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger warned that when the eurozone decides in September, based on the troika?s progress report, whether to keep lending Athens money, it should not look upon a potential Greek exit lightly.

?We should not risk such a development without thinking it through thoroughly,? he told German newspaper Bild, adding that it was unnecessary for people to comment on every decision made by the Greek government.

?They have just presented a package of 11.5 billion euros in cuts,? he said. ?Now this package will have to be adopted by Parliament and implemented.?

In an editorial for the Wall Street Journal, European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn suggested that Greece?s efforts over the last two years should not be overlooked.

?More has been achieved than is often realized,? he said. ?The current Greek government is committed to reforms and enjoys broad parliamentary backing. Negotiations are ongoing over the future of the Greek adjustment program.?