PM aims at nod for cuts

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is expected to meet on Monday with his two coalition partners in a bid to sign off on a tough raft of some 11.5 billion euros in austerity measures before the arrival later this week of envoys representing the country’s international creditors, but objections by socialist PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and Demoratic Left chief Fotis Kouvelis could delay the approval of the cuts. Representatives of the three parties continued talks over the weekend in an effort to overcome differences regarding the content of the package with leftist officials pushing for alternative measures so that pension cuts can be softened. According to sources, the premier is determined that any objections be overcome by Monday so that the blueprint can be rubber-stamped ahead of the scheduled arrival in Athens by Friday of envoys from Greece’s so-called troika of international lenders, the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.

This would allow the package to be submitted to Parliament by the end of the month, paving the way for the release of a crucial 31.5-billion-euro tranche of rescue funding, assuming the troika issues a positive report on Greece’s reform progress.
Venizelos and Kouvelis have both stressed that they do not intend to cause a crisis in the government but they both harbor serious reservations about plans to slash pensions and social benefits. The alternatives they are expected to propose are unlikely to be acceptable to the troika, who are said to be concerned about some of the measures on the blueprint -- namely cuts to public administration and defense spending.

Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras is to travel to Berlin on Tuesday and present the proposed cuts to his German counterpart Wolfgang Schaeuble. He is expected to argue that a deeper-than-expected recession has hampered reform efforts and possibly reiterate a request for the country’s fiscal adjustment period to be extended by two years. An official at the EC told Kathimerini that Athens is very unlikely to have this wish fulfilled.

Meanwhile sources at the IMF are concerned at the lack of progress in structural reforms such as the opening of closed professions, Kathimerini understands. One source said that the Fund is pleased with the decisiveness shown by Samaras but would like to see more. The IMF’s message to the Greek premier is, “Surprise us with some bold moves,” the source said.


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