Cabinet disarray over reforms - The Best from Greece

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Posted on: 04/Apr/2011

 SCENARIOS of an impending government reshuffle and threats of early elections resurfaced during a flurry of cabinet meetings this week, with Prime Minister George Papandreou (photo) launching vitriolic attacks on the media and the whole of the opposition in order to ward off dissent among ruling party MPs as well as some of his ministers over his tough austerity and privatisation agendas.

“Distortions of reality by the mass media, in which petty politics take precedent over real politics, and the pursuit of gossip or the staging of gossip stories supersedes the substance of public information, are symptoms of a deeper disease which is known to have infected the relationship between the media and politics, by focusing on secondary political affairs, to diminish the government’s work,” Papandreou told a cabinet session on March 30.

He was castigating the manner in which the media had reported alleged rows between ministers at cabinet meetings in the previous days, ahead of the arrival in Athens of the EU-IMF-ECB troika supervisors on April 4 to approve a four-year masterplan of wide-ranging reforms, privatisations and austerity measures from 2012 to 2015.

The first major row over privatisations reportedly erupted within the cabinet on March 29, when Environment Minister Tina Birbili and Infrastructure Minister Dimitris Reppas insisted that it made no sense to proceed with fast-track privatisations of strategic public utility corporations due to their grossly undervalued stock-market prices, in the midst of the deepest recession since the Second World War.

Friendly fire

On this issue, they were confronted with a strong rebuttal from the finance minister, Yiorgos Papakonstantinou, and the state minister for investment, Harris Pamboukis, who argued that the proceeds from privatisations worth 15bn euros are crucial in the fulfilment of the country’s commitments to its EU-IMF creditors.

Main opposition New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras took the opportunity to lambast “the government’s ineptitude in handling the derailment of its own fiscal targets in the first quarter of 2011” by attempting a leap into the future. Samaras argued that these new disagreements among Pasok ministers and MPs threaten to block the few remaining chances of an economic recovery.

“Whether short- or long-term, the government’s plans simply don’t add up,” Samaras said.
“The one sure thing is that, had we followed the previous government’s course, the results wouldn’t add up to anything,” Papandreou retorted.

But several Pasok MPs and former ministers, like the outspoken backbencher Pantelis Oikonomou, were more impatient with the premier’s promises of a light at the end of the tunnel.

Oikonomou called on March 30 for the scrapping of the bailout memorandum signed by the government in May in return for a 110bn euro loan from the EU and the IMF.

“The current loan agreement is finished and its continuation beyond June makes no sense because it aggravates instead of resolving the country’s debt problem,” he said. “What is of vital importance is the activation of the eurozone’s new financial stability mechanism this year rather than in 2013.”


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