Friday, 21 June 2013

Greek Coalition's Fate Uncertain

This article was published by EnetEnglish.

Greece's political stability was in doubt late on Thursday night, as the smallest coalition partner walked out of the yearling government.

The ruling conservatives, socialists and the Democratic Left were locked in days of talks over how to revamp the state broadcaster, ERT, after the prime minister unilaterally shut it down on June 11, when Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis unexpectedly walked out.

Kouvelis later delivered a brief statement describing as "unacceptable" the government's failure to re-establish live broadcasts following a ruling to do so by the Council of State, the country's top administrative court. 

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras blamed Kouvelis for inconsistency. "Yesterday there was agreement on restoring the public television signal," Samaras said in a communique delivered after the talks broke down.  "We would hire the necessary personnel to operate all three frequencies. That was what tonight's talks were about," he said.

"In today's talks, Fotis Kouvelis appeared to argue outside the context of the agreement he put his name to yesterday," Samaras continued. "He asked us to re-open the ERT we shut down - in other words, to return to a nefarious situation with too many employees, abolishing all hope that something will change in ERT."

The government can remain in power even in the event that Kouvelis withdraws his two ministers, 14 MPs and vote of confidence. Conservative New Democracy and the socialist Pasok party together hold 153 out of 300 seats. However, the government would be severely weakened and might lack the legitimacy with which to carry out the difficult austerity measures and reforms that lie ahead.

The crisis between the three coalition leaders was sparked by Samaras' unilateral decision on June 11 to announce the immediate closure of Hellenic Radio and Television, ERT, in order to slim it down and restructure it.

Venizelos and Kouvelis have both demanded the immediate re-establishment of the signal before any revamp is put into action. A ruling by the country's top administrative court on Monday demanded the same. Samaras has so far reportedly agreed to re-establish the signal through an interim vehicle that would operate until the end of the summer, not by allowing the broadcaster to resume business as usual.

ERT has approximately 2,700 employees. Samaras has reportedly proposed hiring between 30 and 800 on two-month contracts in a temporary broadcaster. Venizelos on Thursday night demanded that about 2,000 people be rehired, including musicians.

Samaras said he would see his plan through. "The black will go," he said, in reference to blank television signals where state frequencies used to broadcast. "But we will never go back to the old ERT."

"It is clear that when we share a responsibility, we share a responsibility," said socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos after the meeting, in an apparent criticism of Kouvelis. "We cannot have this back and forth, this a la carte behaviour. We want the government to continue as a tripartite government. We ask the Democratic Left to participate in it as in any civilised European democracy."

Kouvelis did make his feelings clear to EnetEnglish earlier on Thursday. "We had agreed that a restructuring of the state broadcaster was necessary," Kouvelis said at a lunch organised by the British-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce. "But the prime minister, over my objections on the method, proceeded with a legal act which I was unaware of," he said. Kouvelis said he was unhappy that the four cabinet ministers appointed by the two junior partners were never consulted about the act abolishing ERT. "We are a three-party government and we were sent a bill," Kouvelis said.

He was also unhappy that the television signal had been cut. "I knew this would offend the Europeans and it has. It has exposed the country," Kouvelis said.

The deepening crisis in the government has opened the prospect of an election in the immediate term. "People don't want elections but a government that acts quickly and effectively," said Venizelos.

The International Monetary Fund, one of Greece's key creditors, denies that it mandated the closure of the broadcaster. "The recent decisions regarding the state broadcaster have been the government’s," said Gerry Rice its communications director. 

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