PM, FinMin in bid to find common ground with coalition partners

Just three days before the anticipated return to Athens of troika mission chiefs, there are concerns about whether Greece’s fragile coalition government will be able to present foreign inspectors with a united front on thorny issues such as the possible extension of a controversial property tax and the much-delayed streamlining of the country’s civil service.

Conservative New Democracy, which leads the tripartite coalition, and the Finance Ministry insist that the levy, which was introduced in September 2011 as an emergency tax attached to electricity bills, must be extended for another year to secure an estimated 3 billion euros in revenue which troika officials do not believe Greece can collect in other ways. But coalition partners Democratic Left and PASOK continue to object to the extension of the levy with the former planning to vote against it in Parliament and the latter reportedly considering a negative vote too.

In a bid to create some common ground ahead of a scheduled meeting on Wednesday evening between Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his coalition partners, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras met with prominent representatives of both parties on Monday night. The government’s aim, sources said, is to resolve all pending issues with the troika before the next scheduled summit of eurozone finance ministers on April 12, when a decision is to be made on whether to release 2.8 billion euros in rescue funding to Greece.

Another crucial issue which is certain to feature high on the agenda of talks with visiting troika officials, who are due in Athens on Thursday, is the downsizing of the public sector which Greece has long pledged to foreign creditors. In comments on Monday, Administrative Reform Minister Antonis Manitakis appeared to appeal for more time to complete a staff evaluation and implement a so-called mobility scheme, describing the overhaul of Greece’s civil service as “a titanic task.” “It needs a lot of time because along with the reform, a lot of deeply rooted practices and attitudes need to change,” he said.

The minister conceded that the 25,000 staff who are supposed to enter the mobility scheme by the end of the year have not yet been identified. The troika has pushed for the disciplinary process for some 4,000 civil servants accused of a range of offenses to be completed so they can be dismissed from their jobs this year.

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