NEWS

Government seeks to keep reforms alive

The government is seeking to maintain its reformist momentum in the run-up to local government elections in October. The performance of party-backed local government candidates will largely determine whether the government will bring forward the date of the election, in the hope of winning a further mandate, or wait until the end of its term in March 2008. Although criticized for its performance, the government has been gaining ground in recent polls over a Socialist opposition seen as lacking a coherent alternative and riven by internal squabbling. Despite that, the government’s reformist impulse is seen to be losing steam in the face of opposition by reform-averse groups, such as university professors and students, civil servants, public utilities and bank employees. This opposition to change has also been interpreted by some ministers as a sign to back down and not rock the boat too much. These ministers have all clashed with Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis, who is the main supporter of reform. Even Alogoskoufis, however, has been reluctant to tread potentially dangerous ground, such as reforming the social security system. He and Employment Minister Savvas Tsitouridis have repeatedly said that any such reform would not change the retirement age or pension levels. They essentially pass the hot potato over to the government that will be elected in 2008, although they want to win that election as well. For the time being, the government is content to call for a long-lasting dialogue without even putting its own proposals on the table. The same dilution of the reformist impulse appears to have seized Education Minister Marietta Giannakou, whose project to reform the universities has been opposed by professors and students alike. These two groups are not united in their demands but, spurred by governmental indecisiveness, have adopted a rigid strategy of criticism. In the face of that, PASOK opposition leader George Papandreou, who had earlier come out in favor of most aspects of the reform, including private universities, has backed down as well.