Pursuit of Greek coalition agreement continues


TALKS ON forming a coalition government are expected to continue for a second day after the leader of the largest party to emerge from Sunday’s election failed to reach agreement with potential partners.

Conservative New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras said more time was needed after talks with four party leaders, two of whom ruled out any involvement in a coalition willing to administer the bailout memorandum agreement.

The announcement that leftist Syriza, which came second in the re-run election, and the nationalist Independent Greeks would not join the government came as no surprise. Both parties reject the terms attached to the bailout deal.

Mr Samaras’s meetings with leaders began after he received a government-forming mandate from President Karolos Papoulias.

The authority is valid for three days, after which it passes to the leader of the second-placed party if no government has been formed.

Mr Samaras told the president that he would try to form a government with “pro-European parties”, but stressed that a new administration would have to apply the memorandum in a socially just way.

“We have to make the necessary amendments to the [bailout] programme . . . The new government has to be decisive on the issue of social cohesion. National understanding is imperative,” said the New Democracy leader.

Mr Samaras’s most crucial meeting was with socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos. Mr Venizelos reiterated his call for a broad government of “shared responsibility” with New Democracy that should also include Syriza and Democratic Left.

Even though the new parliamentary arithmetic gives the conservatives and their erstwhile archrivals, Pasok, an 11-seat majority in the 300-MP parliament, Mr Venizelos is concerned by the long-term viability of any administration with Syriza as its main opposition.

The Pasok leader slammed as “politically and democratically provocative” the recommendation of Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras that pro-bailout parties form a government without him. However, late last night signs emerged that Mr Venizelos would sign up to a government regardless of whether Syriza was on board, indicating that negotiations “must be wrapped up” by this evening.

To accelerate that process, Mr Samaras is likely to accept Mr Venizelos’s proposal that that president convene a meeting of all party leaders – a step the constitution says should take place when all other avenues have been exhausted – so that leaders can broker an agreement.

Emerging from his meeting with Mr Samaras, however, the leader of the moderate Democratic Left party gave no clear indication on whether he would participate in a coalition.

Fotis Kouvelis said he was not prepared to sign a “blank cheque” and reiterated his party’s stance that the memorandum would have to be renegotiated. Among the Democratic Left’s demands were lengthening the fiscal adjustment period and the restoration of minimum wages and collective contracts. But sources close to the Democratic Left suggested most of its leadership were more prepared than Mr Kouvelis to enter government.

The headlines of most Greek newspapers interpreted the result as an endorsement for a coalition government. “Popular mandate for the formation of a government,” noted pro-Pasok Ethnos, while liberal-conservative Kathimerini said the “result gives the country a breather. More direct was pro-Pasok Ta Nea, which said “Government immediately!” But pro-Syriza Avyi said the result heralded a “new era for the left”.