PM faces crucial dual test

As government officials attempt to finalize an elusive package of 11.5 billion euros in budget cuts for 2013 and 2014 ahead of a brief summer break, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is bracing for what promises to be the toughest stint in his premiership later this month.

Government sources told Kathimerini that Samaras faces the tough task of overcoming disagreements within his shaky coalition government regarding the content of the package of measures and convincing European Union leaders that Greece will meet its commitments to international creditors while keeping alive the possibility of a future renegotiation of the more onerous terms of the country’s loan agreement.

Samaras is said to be taking a few days off ahead of planned meetings later this month with Eurogroup Chairman Jean-Claude Juncker, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande.

But getting the Europeans on his side is not Samaras’s only challenge. He must also overcome the objections of his coalition partners -- socialist PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and Fotis Kouvelis of Democratic Left -- to the planned resurrection of a controversial labor reserve scheme, aimed at cutting state spending by reducing civil servant numbers. Kouvelis has dismissed the scheme out of hand as “a fiasco” following several failed efforts by authorities to implement it. Venizelos is less categorically opposed to the plan but is keen to avoid setting a precedent for layoffs in the civil service which he has pledged to avoid at all costs.

Both leaders are expected to receive a finalized blueprint for the 11.5 billion euros in cuts -- still being worked over by Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras and Labor Minister Yiannis Vroutsis -- by around August 20.

Assuming that the coalition leaders set aside their objections in the broader interests of the coalition and support the blueprint, the government still faces the challenge of voting the unpopular package of measures -- which is certain to include fresh cuts to pensions and social benefits -- through Parliament in September.

The tripartite coalition has a 178-seat majority in the 300-member House so logically the vote should pass but the severity of the measures might put the convictions of some leftist lawmakers to the test. 

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