PM puts his foot down

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Wednesday sought to take a firm line vis-a-vis his coalition partners, who continue to harbor doubts about the content of an 11.5-billion-euro austerity package currently being drafted and about the government?s stance toward the country?s foreign creditors.

Samaras reportedly rejected a demand by socialist PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos for party leaders to discuss the package ahead of the scheduled arrival in Athens on Friday of envoys representing Greece?s troika of foreign lenders, the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund. Venizelos is said to have pushed for the meeting as soon as possible ?in view of the ever-thickening developments? ahead of the trioika?s visit. Sources told Kathimerini that Venizelos was annoyed that he and Fotis Kouvelis of the Democratic Left, the third party in the coalition, had not been debriefed by Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras on the latter?s talks with his German counterpart in Berlin on Tuesday.

Venizelos and Kouvelis are said to be pressing for alternatives to some onerous proposals for the 11.5-billion-euro package.

Meanwhile Finance Ministry sources said government officials would only be discussing with the troika their obligations as set out in Greece?s loan agreement, suggesting that reports about a request by foreign lenders for Greece to introduce a six-day working week and other labor reforms were not on the table.

Sources close to Samaras suggested that the coalition partners wanted to distance themselves from unpopular decisions. They added there would be no reason for a meeting between party leaders about the measures until these are endorsed by troika chiefs whom Stounaras is to meet on Sunday before Samaras receives them on Monday. The PM is to travel to Frankfurt on Tuesday for talks with ECB President Mario Draghi, meaning that the leaders? meeting might not be held until the middle of next week.

In other European capitals, there were conflicting messages on Greece. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble expressed his conviction that Greece would remain in the eurozone, while Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said his country would not contribute any further loans to Greece. But in Brussels, an EC spokesman said Greece had made ?great progress over the past two years despite great challenges and difficulties.?

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