Leaders rework plan after troika objections


GREECE:THE LEADERS of Greece’s tripartite coalition government convened last night to fine tune the details of the country’s latest austerity package, after visiting troika inspectors raised objections to certain provisions in the spending cut plan.

Prime minister Antonis Samaras, who heads the conservative New Democracy party, met with Evangelos Venizelos, the socialist Pasok leader, and Democratic Left chief Fotis Kouvelis after the finance minister briefed the troika on the government’s proposals.

According to ministry officials, Yannis Stournaras presented the troika with a catalogue of measures totalling €17 billion, from which to choose the lenders’ belt-tightening target of just under €12 billion. However, the troika “expressed objections to some measures that they did not understand and on which they required clarification”, the officials said.

Greek media outlets last night claimed that one of the issues that the inspectors had raised doubts about was the ability of the Greek side to raise revenue from a planned crackdown on tax evasion.

They also reported that the troika was insisting on public sector layoffs, the reduction in wages and labour market regulation, the closure of hundreds of public agencies, the removal of remaining bonuses and benefits in the private sector, and the cutting of the 13th and 14th monthly salaries – paid out at holiday periods – to pensioners.

Mr Samaras’s coalition partners have objected to blanket cuts on weaker social stratas.

It was unclear last night whether another troika proposal – emailed to the labour ministry last week – to extend the working week from five to six days was still on the table.

The prospect of longer working hours and the reality of rising unemployment – almost one in four Greeks is now out of work – have fuelled popular resentment against the government.

On Saturday, over 20,000 people took to the streets of the country’s second city, Thessaloniki, in protest at the latest round of spending cuts.

Trade unions called the demonstration, which was generally peaceful, to coincide with the opening of the city’s international trade fair.

Speaking at the opening of the fair, Mr Samaras sought to assure Greeks that the latest austerity package would be “the last”.

Insisting that the cuts were necessary to restore the country’s credibility, Mr Samaras said: “The profiteers of destruction are betting on our failure; we won’t do them the favour.

“The next six weeks will determine many things and it’s up to us to succeed.”

The conservative leader, who came to power on a platform of renegotiating the country’s bailout deal, insisted that his coalition government was “already improving the country’s negotiating position”.

But Mr Samaras came in for extensive criticism for breaking the customary tradition of a keynote economic policy speech and ensuing televised press conference that prime ministers give on the first Sunday of the fair.

Main opposition Syriza last week criticised Mr Samaras’s absence from the public realm, noting that last week that it had been two months since he last appeared in parliament, which sits during the summer.