NEWS

Backlash from parties, unions on the way

As Parliament prepares to vote later this week on the latest round of austerity measures announced by the government, the ruling PASOK party is bracing itself for strong opposition in the House and on the streets, where public servants will be protesting today. The legislation containing the new steps, which include drastic cuts to public servants’ salaries, reductions in public spending and hikes in VAT and taxes on alcohol, cigarettes and fuel, is due to be voted on by Thursday. Although the Communist Party (KKE) and the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) have made it clear that they will oppose the measures, it is not yet clear what New Democracy’s stance will be. The conservatives face a dilemma as voting against the legislation would make them look irresponsible in the eyes of some voters while voting for the measures could make them appear as «accomplices.» The disagreement between the parties was evident yesterday when opposition leaders turned down a rare opportunity to meet with Prime Minister George Papandreou to discuss the spending cuts and tax hikes being introduced so Greece can qualify for 110 billion euros of emergency loans from the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund. ND’s president Antonis Samaras said there was no point in holding the meeting because the package had already been agreed. SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras replied in similar fashion. The only party leader to agree that the meeting should take place was the Popular Orthodox Rally’s (LAOS) Giorgos Karatzaferis. Meanwhile, the reaction of unions to the measures will be evident from today as the ADEDY civil servants’ union has decided to hold a 48-hour, rather than a 24-hour, strike to protest the slashing of public sector salaries and bonuses. ADEDY will be joined tomorrow in a general strike by the private sector union GSEE. As a result, all public services, including ministries, pension funds and utilities, will be closed today and tomorrow, as well as kindergartens, schools and universities. Hospitals will operate with skeleton staff as doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers will join in the strike. Severe transport disruption is expected tomorrow. There will be no air travel as air-traffic controllers will take part in the protest but this is likely to lead to some flights being canceled today as well. Workers at the Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE) and the Proastiakos suburban railway will walk off the job tomorrow but employees on the metro, the Kifissia-Piraeus electric railway, buses, trams and trolley buses will work only between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. There will be no ferries sailing tomorrow. Many shops will also be closed between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. tomorrow and no court cases will be heard as judges and lawyers will be on strike. Europeans begin approving loans for Greece Members of the eurozone yesterday began the process of individually ratifying the emergency loans they will extend to Greece as part of a 110-billion-euro deal, which includes a contribution from the International Monetary Fund, that Athens has agreed. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet approved the legislation that would lead to 22.4 billion euros being given to the Greek government but emphasized that it was doing so to save the euro, not just Greece. «It doesn’t only mean that we help Greece but that we stabilize the euro as a whole, which helps people in Germany,» said Merkel, who had for weeks been reluctant to agree to the package. France is due to grant Greece 16.8 billion euros in loans, making it the second-biggest contributor. The package was discussed in the lower house of the French parliament with a vote due to be held today when it is expected that MPs will pass the support unanimously. There was also unanimous backing for the support from the mainstream parties in the Netherlands, which will contribute 4.8 billion euros. The cabinet in Finland, which will supply 1.6 billion euros, proposed a supplementary budget to cover its share. «This is not a pleasant decision,» Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said. «If there had been better ways to resolve this, I’m sure we would have found them.» There was less understanding in Slovakia, which will loan Greece 800 million euros. «We can’t give Greece any loan before we see them doing their homework,» said Prime Minister Robert Fico. «Personally, I don’t believe that the Greek parliament will be able to approve the restrictions adopted by the government.»