Stormy start to talks

Parliamentary discussions on pension reforms got off to a stormy start yesterday as socialist PASOK deputies walked out of talks, accusing the government of keeping its cards hidden. PASOK said the government must spell out its positions on the issue and has called for an actuarial study to accurately measure the magnitude of the problem. «I refuse to participate in a dialogue that is being held under the suffocating perception (that imposes) a single procedure,» said PASOK MP Theodoros Pangalos. The conservative government says that it currently pays around 13 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to support pensions and fears the amount could reach as high as 25 percent by 2050 unless swift action is taken. Economy Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis and his counterpart at the Employment and Social Security Ministry, Vassilis Magginas, kicked off the economic committee talks with the country’s largest union groups, GSEE and ADEDY. «We are looking at a pension system… which in a few years, with mathematical certainty, will not be able to meet its obligations,» said Magginas. «If we don’t intervene now, the eventual eruption will be brutal.» The PASOK deputies that walked out of the talks yesterday were also accompanied by MPs from the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA). The Communist Party (KKE) had flatly refused to sit in on any discussion. Both KKE and SYRIZA argue that the government has already made up its mind about the reforms and consider the dialogue a sham. They have announced plans to hold street protests on the issue in the coming weeks. The conservative government has said that it is determined to push ahead with the reforms but its slim two-seat majority in the 300-seat parliament could prove to be a major obstacle. Last week, two of its MPs said they were against radical proposals outlined by the Bank of Greece, the central bank, to increase the retirement age.