Athens is bracing for another rally by private and public sector workers on Wednesday evening, and further strikes may be announced before then. Adding to the ire of unionists and opposition leaders is a social security reform bill announced on Monday, a day after deeply unpopular public expenditure cuts were voted through parliament. The social security bill will reduce pensions for some categories of workers and raise the retirement age for those entering the workforce after 2015.
Opposition parties have called it a dismantling of the social state put in place over the last three decades.
Greece was set to ask for the release of 20 billion euros of an EU-IMF safety net on Wednesday, reports said. 14.5bn would come from the EU, while 5.5bn would come from the IMF.
There were preliminary reports from parliamentary correspondents on Tuesday evening that the government is also proposing to stiffen the Audit Committee, which oversees MPs' tax returns. Five MPs currently sit on the committee, and there is allegedly a proposal to replace them. The understanding is that this would remove any collegiate sentiments on the committee towards transgressing MPs.
The oversight of parliamentary deputies' tax returns is a the key point of political accountability. Another is the immunity from prosecution enjoyed by MPs. Yet a third is a law limiting the liabilities of cabinet ministers to five years after they leave office, or the end of the second parliamentary session following an election, whichever comes sooner. Political observers and constitutional experts have long decried these as creating a double standard. Following Greece's effective bankruptcy and the financial scandals attendant upon the last government, there is more pressure than ever on the political system to change.
Transparency was a key election promise made by the socialist party last September. It had also been the main plank of a platform that helped elect the conservative party in March 2004.
Calls for change
"The prospect of bankruptcy has not become any more distant," said President of the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises Dimitris Daskalopoulos in an address to the annual general meeting of the private sector's leading body today. "The political system will face a survival test," he added.
In a blunt broadside against the political system, he accused parties and politicians of resisting change because they are lining their pockets with taxpayer money. "They feel that a smaller state... would shrink their power and privileges," he said. "The political system is called upon to surpass itself. If it does not change, it will become obsolete."
Greek parliamentary democracy was restored 36 years ago this July after a seven-year dictatorship. This is a period known as the meta-political period, or metapolitefsi. Daskalopoulos said we are "witnessing the disintegration of the metapolitefsi, which is characterised chiefly by political clientelism, fiscal indiscipline, endemic corruption and the populism to which our parties are wont."
Despite the national nature of the crisis Greece faces, the ruling socialist government is almost completely isolated in the three waves of public cost-cutting it has so far voted through parliament, and in the reforms it proposes.
Conservative opposition leader Antonis Samaras said on Monday he refused to back the latest socialist austerity package, a condition of the EU-IMF support package, because the government would not rescind a law that grants citizenship to the children of legal immigrants, or back down from a plan to reduce local governments by two thirds. Samaras said he also demands more support for the poor and more emphasis on development rather than public cost-cutting.