Coalition leaders seek troika compromise
In preparation for the return of the troika to Athens, scheduled for December 2, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Deputy Premier Evangelos Venizelos met on Tuesday to discuss the remaining reforms Greece has to carry out to meet its lenders’ demands but a deal still seems some distance away.
Venizelos told Samaras that PASOK would not accept changes to the restrictions on mass dismissals and the lifting of a moratorium on home foreclosures. Although Venizelos told journalists after the meeting that the differences with the troika are close to being bridged, it is thought that the arrival of officials from the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund might be delayed.
Greece is hoping that its willingness to compromise on other issues will mean further holdups are avoided. One such example is the fate of Hellenic Defense Systems (EAS), with Samaras and Venizelos agreeing that the state-run firm should be downsized. This will lead to 700 out of some 1,000 employees losing their jobs. The government, however, would like EAS to continue to operate for another 18 months at least with a focus on exporting its products.
The 700 firings will count toward the 2,000 more civil servants the government has to dismiss by the end of the year. Another 500 are to come from bureaucrats who are leaving for health reasons, 300 from civil servants who are found guilty of committing offenses and 150 from the closure of the Greek National Road Fund (TEO).
The remaining redundancies will derive from the merger or closure of a number of public bodies.
The government has also been dogged by the ongoing strike by university administrative staff, which has led to Athens University and the National Technical University of Athens being closed for the last 12 weeks. Education Minister Constantinos Arvanitopoulos is due to meet on Wednesday with representatives of the administrative staff, who are protesting their inclusion in a public sector labor mobility scheme.
The meeting will take place amid speculation that the minister is set to soften his targets for the number of university staff that will have to be placed in a labor pool. Kathimerini understands that 100 employees, rather than the previously planned 500, will leave Athens University under the minister’s new proposals.
Samaras also met on Tuesday with European Parliament President Martin Schulz, who said talks on debt relief should be held if Greece achieves a primary surplus and backed Greek calls for the issue to be resolved before European Parliament elections due in May.
Once Eurostat has established that there is a primary surplus, “then we will stick to our promises,” Schulz said, referring to an agreement in November last year between Greece’s creditors. “If we have signs of growth, we should act quickly, as we did in the case of rescuing [Greece],” Schulz said.
He also called for troika envoys to Greece to be more “democratically accountable.”
Samaras, for his part, expressed his belief that the first signs of recovery in Greece will appear during the country’s six-month presidency of the European Union, which begins on January 1.