Slow first day of troika talks in Paris

Greek government officials, led by Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis, were involved in slow and detailed negotiations with the country’s troika of international creditors focused on next year’s budget during Tuesday’s first day of talks in Paris.

The discussions had not ended by late on Tuesday night but Greek sources indicated that the two sides were going through the budget “line by line” to settle any differences that may exist. The troika insists that Athens’s projection for no fiscal gap next year is wrong. Greece’s lenders estimate the shortfall between 2 and 3 billion euros.

“Our aim is to close the review,” said Hardouvelis as he arrived at 3.30 p.m. for the first of two days of talks in the French capital. The government is hoping that there is enough common ground found in Paris for troika inspectors to return to Athens to complete the pending review of the Greek program.

“We are hopeful that there will be convergence on the issues on which there is currently divergence,” said the finance minister.

It is expected that the two sides will move onto other issues, such as pension reform and wages in the civil service, during the second day of talks.

Back in Athens, the troika’s demands are taking a toll on the government’s cohesion. New Democracy secretary Andreas Papamimikos indicated that his party is distancing itself from PASOK, which does not want to discuss any changes to union laws. He said that he is in favor of adopting a rule requiring labor groups to gather one vote more than 50 percent of members in order to call a strike.

“Why shouldn’t there be a law that required 50 percent plus one members of a union to call a strike instead of a minority?” said Papamimikos in an interview with Real FM. Other conservative officials are known to favor this change even at the risk of upsetting coalition partner PASOK.

The Socialists continued on Thursday to discuss former party chief George Papandreou’s proposal for an emergency congress followed by a leadership vote. “I am not saying that Papandreou is trying to destabilize the country but I would say that our internal conflicts and quarrels do not help at this moment,” said Education Minister Andreas Loverdos.

Former Finance Minister Filippos Sachinidis, however, repeated his belief that Papandreou’s proposals should be adopted by PASOK leader and Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos.

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