Attempt at consensus fizzles out

A bill introducing reforms in the public and private sectors was due to be passed through Parliament late last night, just hours after Prime Minister George Papandreou’s meetings with opposition party leaders highlighted the lack of consensus on the changes being undertaken by the government. The government’s seven-seat majority in Parliament was expected to be enough to see the legislation through the House. Although a number of PASOK deputies had voiced their displeasure at the measures, which include a 10 percent wage cut for most public enterprise workers and a way for companies to get out of collective labor contracts, none had indicated any intention to vote against the legislation – a move that may have brought down the government if there were enough rebel MPs. The level of unhappiness among PASOK lawmakers, many of whom feel the measures are unfair and too drastic, was exacerbated by the government’s decision to rush the bill through Parliament, thus limiting the time for debate. The reaction of Socialist MP Odysseas Voudouris, who said he would abstain from the brief debate, was indicative of the mood. Pressure from PASOK MPs also led to Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou withdrawing a provision which would have allowed him to give the approval for 24 billion euros in debts to the state to be wiped out. Papaconstantinou said he would rewrite the provision so the authority would rest with the State Audit Council. Meanwhile, Papandreou’s efforts to build consensus between party leaders proved largely unsuccessful. All three of the leaders he met – Aleka Papariga of the Communist Party, Giorgos Karatzeferis of Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) and Antonis Samaras of New Democracy – said they found little or no common ground with the government. «There was no consensus on anything,» said Papariga. «We think that the real battle will start now because the workers will realize that there is no point in negotiating over how much they are going to lose.» «I am a standard-bearer for consensus but I will not be society’s undertaker,» said Karatzaferis, whose party had voted in favor of the emergency loan agreement earlier this year. «We showed our seriousness by voting for the memorandum so there could be wages and pensions, but now those wages and pensions are being slashed and we cannot support this.» Samaras said ND would continue to support any «common sense» measures, underlining that the conservatives had voted for 33 of the government’s bills. But he added that «consensus is complicity.» Samaras said he was opposed to the bypassing of collective contracts as that would lead to «medieval working conditions.»

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