PASOK wants to put economy on the agenda

PASOK Chairman George Papandreou wants to see the government’s economic policy and its effect on social cohesion on the agenda of a parliamentary debate between party leaders. Papandreou and senior party officials decided to call for the debate at a meeting last Thursday for four reasons. First, PASOK wants to make the economy a major arena of combat with the government as it believes that social pressure will continue with planned strikes by the umbrella GSEE union and the ADEDY public service union. Second, the party believes the government’s policy of redistributing income will hurt poorer sections of society, which defected from PASOK in the 2004 general election. Third, PASOK wants to extricate itself from the discussion on macroeconomic issues, as it seems the doomsayers who predicted that the 2006 budget would fail and the government would be forced to impose emergency taxes have been proved wrong. Fourth, the PASOK leader wants more frequent face-to-face confrontations with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to boost his own leadership profile. All recent opinion polls on preferences for leaders have shown him lagging well behind Karamanlis. Papandreou will hammer home the view that government policy is making workers feel insecure. This insecurity relates to the future of labor relations arising from banks’ attempts to do away with collective bargaining, to social insurance entitlement (since dialogue has begun without any specific proposals from the government), and to the economy, due to current incomes policy, high costs and the failure to implement election commitments to pensioners. Sources say the PASOK leader will lambast the government’s handling of the seamen’s strike and its «neutral» stance toward bankers and the Federation of Greek Industries, which has proposed wage increases below the level of inflation. But close colleagues of Papandreou say he will not take a populist stance, citing the failure of past attempts to beat unemployment. In this way he will try to get over the image of confusion and awkwardness that PASOK projected throughout the sailors’ strike. PASOK avoided taking a clear position on the strikers’ demands, and Papandreou did not comment on the government’s decision to mobilize them. His colleagues say that Papandreou will insist that workers’ security should be linked to efforts by the Greek economy to become internationally competitive. He will speak in favor of using mechanisms such as job market flexibility and part-time work to reduce unemployment, but in such a way as to protect workers’ basic rights. He will also criticize the government for failing to utilize methods at its disposal for reducing youth unemployment, among which are EU programs for active employment and the Labor Inspectorate. Meanwhile, PASOK is trying to firm up its proposals on the stock market in order to formulate its party platform. Though views differed at last Thursday’s meeting on economic issues, it was agreed that PASOK would support the existence of strong Greek banks but would also stress that the principles of competition must apply so that it is possible for large banking concerns to operate in Greece.

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