Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is trying to quell dissent by five of his New Democracy Conservative lawmakers who said they will vote against an amendment to restore the pay and pensions of judges unless he does the same for members of the military and uniformed officers.
The courts had ruled that austerity cuts to both classes were unconstitutional, but the government hasn’t acted on the military and officers while swiftly putting forth the legislation to bring back the pay of judges. Samaras has also ignored another court ruling to restore the lump sums of pensioners that have been cut as much as 38 percent.
The series of court rulings on the pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings implemented by Samaras and his partner the PASOK Socialists could undermine the country’s looming economic recovery, officials said, setting up a collision with the courts after judges complained he was refusing to obey legal orders.
The Finance Ministry submitted an amendment to Parliament on June 24 abolishing cuts to the salaries and pensions of judges that have been enforced since August 2012 as part of Greece’s commitments to the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB.) The move came a day after a court ruled that retroactive cuts to the judges’ pensions were unconstitutional.
But, in a joint statement,Democracy MPs Ilias Vlachoyiannis, Iordanis Tzamtzis, Theodoros Soldatos, Pavlos Voyiatzis and Dimitrios Kyriazidis threatened to vote down the amendment unless cuts to the wages of police and armed forces employees are also revoked.
The government has only a four-vote majority in the Parliament and unless the would-be rebels back off, as others have in the past after threatening to withhold support on other austerity measures, the amendment would fail and set up a scenario in which Samaras wouldn’t be able to eject or discipline his MPs, as he has before when they refused to vote the way he told them to.
Although Greece is technically a democracy, Members of Parliament get their marching and voting orders from their party leaders and face discipline or ejection unless they vote in lockstep.
Trying to mollify the resisters, high-ranking government officials noted that measures have already been taken to lighten the burden on police and armed forces staff who were among the beneficiaries of the so-called “social dividend” distributed last month after Greece recorded a primary budget surplus.
The officials also pointed out that unlike the court decision regarding the judges, which was issued late last year, a Council of State ruling ordering salary cuts for police officers and armed forces staff was issued this year and therefore has not been budgeted for. They didn’t explain why that wasn’t in contempt of court.
There were fears meanwhile that other rulings could prompt similar reactions by other lawmakers. Another New Democracy MP, Evripidis Stylianidis, called on the government to honor a court ruling issued in May and rehire hundreds of Finance Ministry cleaners who have been put into a mobility scheme for civil servants.
Samaras said the government doesn’t have the 3-5 million euros to rehire the cleaning ladies but is coughing up 100 million euros in back pay and benefits for judges who ruled in favor of themselves, and another 69 million euros a year to restore the judiciary’s pay.
The government, to reduce the size of the bloated civil service it caused with hundreds of thousands of needless hires in return for votes, has targeted the lower-paid, such as cleaning ladies, teachers, school crossing guards, janitors, nurses and municipal police, while exempting Parliament workers, managers, consultants and the politically-protected.
Administrative Reform Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that rehiring the cleaning ladies without a final decision by the Supreme Court, which is expected in the fall, would undercut the so-called mobility scheme of layoffs and firings that Greece promised the Troika it will enforce.
He didn’t say why paying the judges, military, Coast Guard, uniformed officers, and emergency services personnel wouldn’t violate that vow even though it will cost more than 669 million euros, plus higher salaries annually.
Interior Minister Argyris Dinopoulos, meanwhile, said the government would continue to lay off and fire workers wholesale, although Mitsotakis had promised evaluations in every case, which hasn’t happened.