Despite facing stubborn resistance to its efforts to reform the country’s creaking social security system, the government yesterday called for a nationwide discussion about the subject while warning that in less than 50 years, the state will be paying out in pension benefits almost four times what it will earn from contributions. «The government believes that we must have a long-term national dialogue about social security, so that the parameters of the matter can be made clear… and for a common platform to be created to achieve consensus between political parties, employers and workers,» said Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis. The government’s first attempt to reform the social security system by creating a single auxiliary pension scheme for bank employees has met with fierce opposition – workers have been on strike for the last four weeks. However, Alogoskoufis was adamant that although reforms were a bitter pill, they were medicine that Greece needed to take. He said that the state currently spent 12.4 percent of its GDP on covering pensions but, with one of the most rapidly aging populations in Europe, the outlay would skyrocket to 22.6 percent of GDP by 2050. Equally worrying, the minister said, was that during the same period, pension contributions would only rise by 0.5 percent to just under 9 percent of GDP by 2050. Alogoskoufis spelled out clearly that Greece could not afford to pay such high pensions. The need for reforms was also at the core of a speech by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis in Parliament yesterday. Though he was ostensibly speaking on the subject of public administration, the premier made it clear that reforms were here to stay. «Greece will not turn back. The changes have begun; the changes will continue; they will not stop,» said Karamanlis. With MPs due to vote on the government’s pension proposals tomorrow, the ruling conservatives were still not aware yesterday whether their former leader and current MP Miltiades Evert would table an amendment to the bill, thereby opening an opportunity for division within New Democracy. Evert said he would read the details of the latest changes the government made to its proposals before making a final decision. However, his reluctance to declare his position also appears to have left PASOK at a loss, since it seems that they had banked on using Evert’s amendment as a battering ram. Meanwhile, fears that cash machines would run out of money due to security staff joining the bank employees’ strike were put to rest. After talks with the Public Order Ministry, unionists said they were suspending their plans for industrial action. However, any private bankers’ relief was not shared by businesses, still concerned about the effects of the ongoing strike. The Athens Traders’ Association yesterday asked the director of IKA, the main state social security fund, to give its members a 15-day extension once the strike was over to pay their contributions. The association also asked for assurances that businesses would not be punished for loans or checks that had remained unpaid due to the strike.