Greek Lawmakers OK Privatization, No to Fund Mergers

As Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ hopes of pushing a $17.45 billion spending cut and tax hike plan remained stalled, the Greek Parliament has approved a privatization bill but balked at merging health care funds, including one for journalists, who went on strike to protest the prospect.

The government failed to get a majority on its draft law proposing that the social security funds of journalists, civil engineers, lawyers and other be inducted into the National Organization for Healthcare Provision (EOPYY.)

The amendment, attached to the privatization bill, had been submitted to Parliament less than a day before the vote, prompting the Panhellenic Journalists’ Union (POESY) to call a 24-hour strike as it argued employees’ funds should not be merged with the deficit-ridden EOPYY because they are self-financing. The union did not rule out further protests as it said that the government is likely to try to resubmit the bill next week.

The bill paving the way for the privatization of public companies such as the Thessaloniki and Athens water companies passed easily, although nearly 30 lawmakers belonging to the three-party New Democracy-PASOK-Democratic Left coalition voted against it.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the New Democracy leader, warned ahead of time that he would eject any of his members from the party if they refused his orders to vote for the bill.

A total of 148 MPs out of 293 that took part in the ballot voted for the sell-off legislation. PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and Democratic Left chief Fotis Kouvelis abstained from the vote, prompting speculation about whether the coalition will be able to survive as a meeting between the three coalition leaders was set for the night of Oct. 31.

Samaras has been struggling for months to get his reluctant partners to go along with more harsh austerity measures in the 2013-14 budget. The Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) warned that unless it is approved with more reforms that Greece will not get a long-delayed $38.8 billion loan installment.