NEWS

PM heralds extra measures

Prime Minister George Papandreou yesterday heralded a series of austerity measures – beyond those already outlined in the crisis plan his government has submitted to Brussels – as he stressed the importance of pushing through painful «but socially fair» measures to ensure the country does not «fall off the edge of an abyss.» In a televised public address given following successive face-to-face meetings with opposition party leaders, Papapandreou asked for broad-reaching support for economic reforms and stressed the importance of accelerating their implementation. «Greece is in the eye of a profiteering storm,» Papandreou said in a clear dig at the international markets who he accused, once again, of treating Greece as the «weak link in the eurozone.» Referring to a threat «that could strangle the economy,» he emphasized the need for swift action and said he would herald detailed tax reforms next week. In a surprise move, the premier announced the immediate imposition of an increase in fuel tax. «The [austerity] measures will start bearing fruit in 2011 but there is a need for income this year, so there will be an increase in fuel tax,» he said. He also heralded a 10 percent cut in bonuses for public sector employees and a freeze on all public sector wages and indicated that there would be an increase in the retirement age in the public sector. Papandreou also sent another message to farmers, who have been blocking key road junctions and border crossings for nearly three weeks, and to other sectors planning protests. «There is no scope for blockades and strikes,» he said. The premier appealed to civil servants to contribute to the efforts being made by his administration to meet fiscal targets and stressed that austerity measures would not target «workers and conscientious businesspeople.» Unsurprisingly, Communist Party (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga and Alexis Tsipras, head of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), were critical of the austerity measures proposed in the Stability and Growth Program submitted to Brussels. Antonis Samaras, leader of the main opposition New Democracy, and Giorgos Karatzaferis, of the right-wing Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), were supportive. But the additional measures heralded by Papandreou during his speech prompted commentators to speculate about whether he was prematurely preparing the «Plan B» that European Commission officials have said they will demand if authorities fail to implement the original crisis plan to the letter.