Athens braces for new talks with troika

The heads of the troika team in Greece are due to arrive in Athens on Saturday ahead of talks with Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, which are expected to focus on several topics that will include the possible sacking of civil servants, vehemently opposed by the head of coalition partner Democratic Left, Fotis Kouvelis, on Friday.

The officials from the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund are due to meet Stournaras on Sunday morning at his office and are scheduled to stay until March 10. Troika technical teams have been in Athens from the beginning of this week.

The key issues to be discussed between the two sides are expected to be Greece’s privatization program, its tax collection system, the recapitalization of the country’s banks and on how to reduce the number of public sector employees.

Following a meeting on Friday with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and several other ministers, Stournaras insisted that there are no plans to fire civil servants.

Speaking to New Democracy MPs at a dinner on Thursday night, Samaras also said that the government would not consider any firings before the end of next year in order to allow a proposed mobility scheme to work properly.

Some 25,000 civil servants are due to enter the scheme this year. Those failing to find other civil service positions will be made redundant.

Kouvelis was adamant that his party would not accept immediate sackings.

“A dogmatic insistence on layoffs is totally divorced from reality,” Kouvelis said, noting that a plan which has been drawn up by the Administrative Reform Ministry will reduce the number of civil servants in Greece to bring them below the European Union average, proportionally speaking. “The country’s lenders must realize that they are also Greece’s partners,” he said. Kouvelis added that “political stability must be based on social cohesion” and referred to a “new situation in Europe’s south” – an apparent reference to the political upheaval created by inconclusive Italian elections last month.

Kouvelis added that it was imperative to create a safety net for poorer citizens and that help should be given to those who are unable to pay their taxes. EU structural funding should be released without delay to boost liquidity in the market and create much-needed jobs, he said.

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