Call for pension talks

The conservative government called on opposition parties yesterday to take part in talks aimed at reforming the country’s social security system, a thorny issue that is likely to spark widespread opposition. Employment and Social Security Minister Vassilis Magginas sent a letter to the four opposition parties represented in Parliament and called on them to jointly iron out the problems in the pension system. «Tackling (pension problems) must be the subject of a sincere, broad and systematic dialogue, not only with the political parties of the country, but also with social partners,» Magginas said in the letter. Issues to be put on the table include merging pension funds, cracking down on employers that fail to pay social insurance contributions and making better use of financial reserves. Overhauling the social security system is seen as one of the biggest challenges facing the ruling conservatives. Experts have termed the country’s pension system a «fiscal time-bomb» which demands radical changes within the next four years. The socialist PASOK party responded by saying it will take part in talks but accused the government of hiding its real intentions. «So far, the government has been the one that has avoided formally taking a position on the issue,» said PASOK spokesman Yiannis Ragoussis. The Communist Party (KKE) and the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), both refused to take part in the procedure, warning that they will fight the measures that are «intended to harm workers’ rights.» Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis is believed to have instructed his Cabinet to push through all election promises by Easter as a sweetener to the upcoming pension reforms. «All of the commitments undertaken by the government will be implemented as part of the 2008 budget,» said Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis after a Cabinet meeting yesterday. Among the changes soon to be tabled in parliament is a tax cut on inherited property and the creation of a fund to help lower-income groups.