Troika talks stuck on overhaul of civil service

Government officials made progress in talks with troika envoys on Tuesday, with only the contentious issue of a civil service overhaul said to be pending, and are reportedly planning to draft new legislation to accelerate dismissals of some 2,000 oath-breaking civil servants by June despite objections by Democratic Left, the junior partner in the coalition.

The civil service overhaul is to be thrashed out in a new meeting between Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras and troika envoys beginning at noon on Wednesday.

In the talks on Tuesday the troika reportedly insisted on a total of 7,000 dismissals this year and 20,000 by the end of 2014, a prospect Democratic Left vehemently objects to.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is reportedly keen to clinch an agreement on all outstanding issues with the troika by Thursday, chiefly so Stournaras can travel to Friday’s Eurogroup summit in Dublin with concrete progress to report ahead of an anticipated decision on a 2.8-billion-euro tranche of rescue funding later this month. According to sources, the premier also wants the talks concluded quickly so he can present Greeks with some good news, though hopes were slim for such a quick breakthrough. Reports suggested that troika is prepared to give in to government demands for Greeks to be allowed more than 40 installments to repay debts to the state. The troika has also reportedly accepted a proposal to reduce a contentious property tax by around 15 percent.

The troika’s stance on civil servants is unlikely to be so generous. The envoys reportedly want dismissals to begin with those accused of disciplinary offenses, with some 2,000 to leave by June. However, it appears that the troika has accepted Greek demands for oath-breaking civil servants who leave their posts to be replaced by new recruits. Both socialist PASOK and Democratic Left appear ready to accept such a plan but neither side is prepared to sanction large-scale layoffs. PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos on Tuesday insisted on the need for the civil service overhaul to move forward and suggested that Democratic Left chief Fotis Kouvelis meet separately with the troika, as he did.

Government officials are said to be working closely with foreign officials to speed up the processing of disciplinary hearings of oath-breaking civil servants. Three alternative scenarios are said to be under consideration: the disciplinary process being restricted to one hearing, with no appeal hearing allowed; the creation of a central disciplinary council that would hear the cases of all employees under investigation irrespective of where they are based; the suspension of the wages of civil servants being investigated until their cases are resolved.

Stournaras’s talks with the troika on Tuesday, which lasted four hours, were briefly attended by Administrative Reform Minister Antonis Manitakis who said the troika asked him for “clarifications” about how the civil service overhaul would work. He refuted reports of a rift between him and Stournaras, hugging the minister to underline his point, and of tensions with the troika. “There is a common stance,” he said. “There is no problem in our relations.”

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