PASOK pulls together on reforms

The labor and pension reforms that the government is planning to introduce are to be tabled in Parliament this week in the form a draft law, Prime Minister George Papandreou decided yesterday, as PASOK continues to try to soften the negative impact that the proposed measures are having. According to sources, Papandreou called State Minister Haris Paboukis from New York last night and told him that the two sets of reforms should be combined into one bill and that it should be submitted to the House for debate. Over the last few days, the government had indicated that the some or all of the reforms would be included in a presidential decree, which would deny other parties the chance to argue against the measures in Parliament. Aleka Papariga, the Communist Party general secretary, and Giorgos Karatzaferis, leader of the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), met with President Karolos Papoulias yesterday and both demanded that MPs be given the chance to debate the reforms. The changes that the government is planning to introduce, including an increase in retirement ages and changing the law to make it simpler and less costly for businesses to fire employees, have already attracted negative publicity and PASOK has been concerned about how it will manage to present them to the electorate without seriously damaging its popularity. A high-level meeting of several ministers, including Paboukis and Labor Minister Andreas Loverdos, took place in Athens last night in a bid to build unity within the government after criticism that Loverdos had been left to shoulder the responsibility of the unpopular measures on his own. Sources said that Papandreou asked his ministers to work together and to make it clear that they support Loverdos in his challenging task. One advantage of the reforms being tabled in Parliament is that Papandreou will have an opportunity to personally defend the changes, which is something that he appears keen to do. Sources also indicated yesterday that New Democracy is likely to vote against the bill in principle but might approve certain individual articles when they are voted on in Parliament. The conservatives drew some criticism for voting against the austerity measures PASOK introduced two months ago.