Gov’t inches toward measures

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his coalition partners — socialist PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and Democratic Left chief Fotis Kouvelis — appeared to be close on Wednesday to finalizing a package of some 11.5 billion euros in austerity measures for 2013 and 2014 that have been demanded by Greece?s foreign creditors but failed to reach a final agreement as the issues of so-called special salaries for certain categories of civil servants and cuts to pensions remained unresolved.

The coalition leaders are expected to meet again on Monday to thrash out the details before a scheduled visit to Athens next Wednesday by envoys from the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, known as the troika.

Emerging from Wednesday?s meeting, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said there had been agreement on the ?basic scenario? for the measures, adding that further talks would focus on ?minor issues of a technical nature.? He said there would be no reductions to farmers? pensions but gave no details about where the knife would fall on other low-level pensions. Stournaras also said talks would continue on proposals for more cuts to certain categories of civil servants including military and judicial personnel.

Venizelos and Kouvelis were more reserved, stressing that citizens on low incomes should be protected. Venizelos said further cuts and sacrifices were inevitable but insisted ?they will be fair.? Kouvelis was the most reticent, reiterating that he was ?categorically opposed? to ?horizontal cuts.?

The political opposition was quick to condemn the ongoing government talks, with left-wing SYRIZA describing the coalition as ?the domestic troika? and declaring that ?the people will not just sit there with their hands tied.? Both SYRIZA and the Communist Party (KKE) have vowed to protest fresh austerity measures with rallies likely to begin next week.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy is due to visit Athens on September 7, according to sources close to Samaras who said the premier spoke by telephone with IMF chief Christine Lagarde on Wednesday.

In a related development, Finance Ministry sources told Kathimerini that Dutch European Affairs Minister Ben Knapen has proposed an alternative to Greece?s request for a two-year extension for its loan repayment period — the immediate payment of the remainder of its outstanding loans, some 70 billion euros.