Rifts in Cabinet growing

The government tried yesterday to play down internal divisions over the way it is negotiating with representatives of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund (also known as the troika). Government spokesman Giorgos Petalotis attempted to make light of rumors of a rift in PASOK and between the government and the troika over Labor Minister Louka Katseli’s article in Sunday’s To Vima newspaper, in which she opposed plans for businesses suffering financial problems to bypass the collective contracts they have signed with their employees in favor of temporary in-house pay pacts, as is foreseen by Greece’s agreement with its lenders. «We believe in collective work contracts but the in-house deals are there to help businesses with problems save themselves,» said Petalotis. «We will not let businesses close down but, during a limited period and in a limited application, we will allow in-house agreements to take place. This is the government position, from which Mrs Katseli has not departed.» Petalotis said Prime Minister George Papandreou «trusted all his ministers,» including Katseli. However, sources said the premier’s office was angry that the labor minister had not informed Papandreou she was going to publish the article. Katseli’s position appears to be supported by Citizens’ Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis, Environment Minister Tina Birbili and Deputy Foreign Minister Mariliza Xenogiannakopoulou. However, rather than developing into a movement against tinkering with collective contracts specifically, it seems that the ministers are unhappy because they feel the government is allowing the troika to dictate terms to Greece, rather than engaging in negotiations with its lenders. «We have to negotiate; we do not operate based on the logic of accepting anything that is put in front of us,» said Deputy Defense Minister Panos Beglitis. «I think all the ministers, including Mrs Katseli, are right [to follow this line]. However, Katseli’s obstinacy also angered a number of ministers and deputies. «At a time when we must put Greece above everything and everyone, we have no time to get lost in opinions and articles,» said Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou.