PM claims blow against 'drachma lobby'

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras indicated on Tuesday that the government was gaining some headway in its efforts to turn the debt-wracked country around as European Council President Herman Van Rompuy stressed that the country’s membership of the eurozone was “irreversible.” But despite the premier’s apparent confidence, criticism from the opposition and from within his fragile coalition suggested that finalizing a new raft of austerity measures demanded by Greece’s foreign creditors will be no easy task.

“I think the ship is beginning to turn around,” Samaras said before a meeting with President Karolos Papoulias, whom he briefed on talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande in Berlin and Paris last week. “We are fighting to strengthen the country’s negotiating power,” Samaras said, adding that the chief aim of the government’s three coalition leaders was to secure the country’s recovery. He said a major victory had been won against those who oppose Greece’s recovery program -- an apparent dig at left-wing opposition SYRIZA, which came second in June elections on an anti-bailout platform. “The drachma lobby has lost an important round,” Samaras said.

The premier is due to meet on Wednesday with his coalition partners -- socialist PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and Democratic Left chief Fotis Kouvelis -- where talks are expected to focus on efforts to identify 11.5 billion euros in austerity measures before a scheduled visit to Athens next month by envoys of the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, known as the troika.

Samaras’s partners, who object to some of the proposed measures, including a proposed labor reserve scheme for civil servants, are unlikely to give the premier an easy time. In a speech to party MPs, Venizelos said PASOK supported the conservative-led government but noted, “We will not vote for whatever, nor have we abdicated to others the responsibility to take decisions for us.”

SYRIZA has pledged to fight the new austerity package in Parliament and “on the streets,” suggesting that heated protest rallies are in store next month.

It is unclear exactly what the new austerity package will entail. Sources said talks between Samaras and Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras on Tuesday focused not only on controversial proposals for more wage cuts for certain categories of civil servants such as military and judicial staff, but also on efforts to boost revenues and a stalled privatization program.


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