Troika talks begin amid coalition tensions

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Deputy Premier Evangelos Venizelos are due to meet on Wednesday to discuss the negotiations with the troika, which began on Tuesday but were overshadowed by friction within the government.

Wednesday’s meeting, due to take place at 6 p.m., was expected to be an opportunity for the New Democracy and PASOK leaders to assess the initial demands of the troika and the mood in the discussions. However, much of it will focus on dealing with the tension building within the coalition instead.

Samaras was forced to intervene on Tuesday after Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis objected to the premier’s close adviser Chrysanthos Lazaridis sitting in on the first day of talks between the economist and the heads of the troika mission. Lazaradis has sat in on negotiations in the past but Hardouvelis, appointed this summer, did not want him to be part of the team talking with the troika. The minister had reached an agreement with Venizelos that no PASOK officials would participate and was frustrated by Lazaridis’s presence.

Hardouvelis has also grown frustrated in recent weeks with leaks from the government regarding fiscal policy. “A lot has been written and said… what is valid, though, is the information that comes from the Finance Ministry and me,” he told journalists ahead of Tuesday’s meetings.

Samaras called Hardouvelis in an effort to smooth things over and stressed the need for the Greek side to appear united in its dealings with the troika. “Lazaridis was present because he knows the numbers and has helped in the drafting of the budget but there was no need for him to speak and he did not speak,” sources in Hardouvelis’s office told Kathimerini after the first day of talks.

On Wednesday, Venizelos and Samaras will attempt to patch up other differences. The prime minister’s office expressed frustration on Tuesday that PASOK appears to be distancing itself from the troika negotiations. Sources close to Samaras insist that the government is defending “common positions” in the talks that began on Tuesday.

As for the content of the discussions between Greek officials and representatives of the country’s lenders, it appears there was an agreement on the issue of the 2015 primary surplus. The government wanted to lower the target from 3 percent of GDP to around 2.4 percent but the troika was opposed to this. Finance Ministry sources told Kathimerini that Athens agreed to include the 3 percent target in next year’s budget. Its draft version is due to be tabled in Parliament on Monday. The final edition is scheduled to be ready in November. Finance Ministry sources stressed, however, that there was an agreement that the higher target would be achieved without additional measures.

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