Social security

Labor Minister Dimitris Reppas’s invitation to all parties concerned to participate in the official start of dialogue on social security, and the announcement that the initial meetings will take place today justify some hope that this major issue has again become a government priority after a long period of inertia. The fact that the government has not postponed these contacts indefinitely, as many had feared it would, shows that the objective need for reform of the insurance system is exerting pressure that is overriding the safer – politically speaking – desire to do nothing. However, the official start of the dialogue does not guarantee progress and success. We should not forget that last spring, the government’s clumsy effort to promote its reform plan, which placed the burden of the reform on wage earners, triggered the largest strike and protest rally in recent years. The opposition, which had earlier adopted a mild tone, intensified its criticism, and the government lay low for about a year. In terms of the political cost, these reactions were natural. The importance of social security for working people is such that any government would prefer inaction to initiative, since it is certain that even the mildest reform would place a greater burden on workers. But though governments would prefer to forget the problem, the problem will not forget us. The situation gets worse daily. And as the European Union pointed out in its report last June, this deterioration will lead to a collapse of the system in the medium term if measures are not taken at once, because deficits are accumulating and in a few years it will take savage austerity measures to deal with them. In other words, the dialogue on social security starts today in worse circumstances than last year, since the system bears the weight of yet another year of inaction. If today’s endeavor fails, it is certain that nothing will be done before the elections and that the next attempt at reform will be around late 2004, at virtually the last moment. This danger must be avoided at all costs. The government, the agencies concerned, and the opposition parties must all treat social security as a vital national issue which requires consensus, a search for a just and balanced distribution of burdens, and its exclusion from the arena of party-political exploitation. Besides, even at the electoral level, the winner in the long run will surely be the party that solves the problem, and not that one that avoids it or uses it to make political gains.

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