NEWS

Crisis talks on package

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras held emergency talks with key cabinet ministers over the weekend as officials from the three parties in the coalition continued feverish negotiations in a bid to lock down an austerity deal with the troika, submit it to Parliament this week and secure the release of crucial rescue funding.

The aim of Samaras and Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, who has been leading negotiations with the troika on a 13.5-billion-euro austerity package and a raft of structural reforms, is to overcome the reservations of Democratic Left to proposed labor reforms and those of socialist PASOK to the possible abolition of certain social benefits and to a bill aimed at fast-tracking privatization projects through Parliament. With a political agreement in hand, the plan would be to submit the reforms to Parliament by Wednesday and vote on them as soon as possible after that.

After a six-hour meeting with Samaras and several ministers on Saturday, Stournaras said «major progress» had been achieved but provided little detail.

European officials are pushing for an acceleration of the process, with a Euro Working Group scheduled to resume on Monday and a eurozone finance ministers? teleconference scheduled for Wednesday. Sources in Brussels indicated over the weekend that Wednesday?s summit may lead to a decision on the release of a 31.5-billion-euro rescue loan that Greece needs to remain solvent as well as the granting of a two-year extension to the country?s fiscal adjustment period.

Back in Athens though, a political deal appeared elusive as Democratic Left appeared unrepentant in its opposition to the bulk of the proposed labor reforms. However Kathimerini understands that Samaras and PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos have agreed to rally their party ranks and push the austerity and reform package through Parliament even if Democratic Left resists. According to sources, the coalition leaders have taken a common line on the issue of severance for employees dismissed from private sector firms ? that they should receive full compensation if they have worked for the same employer for at least 16 years. The partners also reportedly agreed on the dismissal of 25,000 civil servants by the end of 2013.