PM, ministers back in the fray after short break

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his ministers were expected back in Athens on Monday, following short summer breaks, and were expected to return immediately to the implementation of economic reforms ahead of the scheduled visit to Athens next month by troika inspectors as political tensions grow over the likely imposition of additional austerity.

A key priority for the government is to finalize a list of 12,500 civil servants who must enter a labor reserve scheme, where they receive a reduced salary for eight months before being transferred to another position or dismissed, by the end of September. Troika officials have pushed hard for this pledge to be honored, and are expecting an additional 12,500 public sector workers to be inducted into the scheme by the end of the year, so Samaras is likely to push all his cabinet officials to supply lists of names from their ministries by the end of the week. His first meetings are expected to be with Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, Administrative Reform Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who is also Samaras’s deputy and leader of PASOK, the second party in the coalition government.

An issue expected to feature high on the agenda of talks between Samaras and Venizelos is the government’s plans to lift a moratorium on home repossessions. Several MPs in both PASOK and conservative New Democracy have expressed opposition to such a measure and, according to sources, many in PASOK object to the issue being raised by government ministers as the troika did not mention the matter in their last report.

Aides close to Samaras, however, suggest that the government should start preparing public opinion for the possibility of home repossessions from the beginning of next year, after the moratorium ends.

Many counter that such a measure would be an excessive burden on austerity-weary Greeks and there are rumors of a cross-party initiative for an amendment to be tabled in Parliament that would extend the moratorium on repossessions.

Government officials are expected to seek to overcome objections within the coalition by introducing exemptions – chiefly for the unemployed and families with four children or more.