Social security reform still rattles PASOK

Prime Minister Costas Simitis expressed considerable annoyance yesterday at Wednesday’s move, by 45 of his socialist MPs, to urge the government to get on with much-needed social security reform while also advocating labor unions’ positions. Government spokesman Christos Protopappas told journalists that during yesterday’s Cabinet meeting Simitis accused the group – led by his estranged former aide Theodoros Tsoukatos – of hindering efforts to tackle the problem. «Such acts do not facilitate but, indeed, render more difficult, a methodical policy which is heading in a positive direction,» he quoted Simitis as saying. Cabinet sources said the PM had called the move «a way of undermining PASOK.» Protopappas quoted Simitis as saying that government policy on the thorny question of social security reform – which caused a major political storm last spring – should follow the general guidelines approved by the PASOK congress in October. «I had repeated meetings with the Minister of Labor over the past two months, and it is our intention to solve the problem; approaching it, however, in a different way than we did last time,» Simitis said. «I hope preparations will be completed soon.» A series of draconian proposals for overhauling the ailing social security system, unveiled in March by then Labor Minister Tassos Yiannitsis, caused intense reactions from opposition parties and labor unions, sparking the biggest demonstrations seen in Athens in a decade. The government subsequently recalled its proposals and promised dialogue with union leaders. But it has since toned down its arguments, displaying little of the initial sense of urgency it conveyed when arguing that the problem had to be solved within the year for the system to survive. The 45 MPs had urged the government to make up for lost time and seek a solution by the summer. Their proposals on handling the reform were very close to those advanced by GSEE, the umbrella private sector labor union, and the civil servants union (ADEDY). Socialist officials yesterday accused the group of making it much harder for the government to tackle the problem in a satisfactory manner. Some PASOK members even claimed the 45 were acting on behalf of business interests to put the government in a tight spot.

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