PM picks up the pension baton

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis stepped to the forefront last night after his Cabinet approved planned pension reforms and he made a rare televised public address to express his determination to carry through with the changes, even if it damages his own popularity. The draft law is due to be unveiled today but Karamanlis went on the front foot last night amid growing protests about the proposed merging of tens of funds and cutbacks in the benefits of some pensioners. «I will be useful for this country, even if for the time being that makes me unpopular,» said Karamanlis. With a strike by Bank of Greece employees forcing the closure of the Athens Exchange and action by Public Power Corporation workers resulting in power cuts, Karamanlis went on the offensive against critics of the reforms. «In our country, everybody is favor of change but in general and unspecific terms,» he said. «But when action is taken with the aim of benefiting the many, the interests of the few use their privileged position to make life difficult for society as a whole. «The reforms will not stop as a result of the few who are privileged wanting to maintain the status quo.» Karamanlis pledged that the pension reforms, which aim to merge some 150 state-backed pension and auxiliary into just 13, would be «mild and just.» He said that Greece had no choice but to change its complicated and outdated pension system, as the state is currently spending almost 24 billion euros a year, or 12.5 percent of its GDP, to fund payments to retired Greeks. «This situation cannot exist,» said the premier. «The existing system is in danger of collapsing in the next few years and taking the country’s economy with it, which will create difficulties for people on low incomes.» The government’s proposals include adjustments to early retirement limits, which are likely to come into force in 2013. The draft law will be submitted to Parliament, where the proposals will be debated starting next Tuesday. Deputies are likely to vote on the bill on March 20.

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