For third time this week, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras will try to persuade his reluctant coalition partners, PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and Fotis Kouvelis of Democratic Left (DIMAR,) to go along with his closure of the national broadcaster ERT, although they are insisting he obey a court order he has ignored to restore the signal until a pared-down entity, NERIT, replaces it later this summer.
The three leaders are scheduled to sit down at 8:30 p.m. on June 20 in a bid to find some common ground and prevent PASOK and DIMAR from walking away from the government and forcing new elections. Samaras ordered ERT’s shutdown using a ministerial decree but it must to to the Parliament he controls only with votes of PASOK and DIMAR, within 90 days, for ratification or rejection.
A first meeting on June 17 went nowhere and a second on June 19 yielded no results despite 3 1/2 hours of talks that ended with Venizelos and Kouvelis sticking to their guns that ERT must reopen and all 2,656 employees be rehired, although they had supported cuts in the public sector. Samaras said some 1000-1200 would be brought back to run NERIT and reportedly offered to ERT stay open until them but with a smaller staff.
“It’s important that an agreement is reached for the immediate enforcement of the court’s decision and the restoration of broadcasting,” Venizelos said. He was referring to the June 17 ruling by the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, demanding the restoration of the state broadcaster’s signal. The PASOK leader also emphasized the need for any agreement reached by the coalition leaders “to provide a boost to the government with a revised policy program,” he said.
Kouvelis covered similar ground in his statement, insisting that the state broadcaster start airing immediately while also calling for an overhaul of governance. “The three-party government must express the common position of all three parties,” he said.
The fact that neither Venizelos nor Kouvelis said the word “ERT” – they both referred to “the public broadcaster” – was broadly seen as a concession toward the stance of Samaras, who wants a transitional service to operate before the new broadcaster is set up.
There was little comment from ND’s camp after the talks, with government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou describing the meeting as “a complex discussion that will continue tomorrow.”
As the coalition leaders met at the Maximos Mansion, some 3,000 demonstrators gathered outside ERT’s headquarters in the northeastern suburb of Aghia Paraskevi for a peaceful demonstration organized by the country’s two labor unions.
The leader of the leftist opposition party SYRIZA, Alexis Tsipras, was at the rally. “Let them understand that there can be no compromises while there are barbaric layoffs and black screens,” Tsipras said, referring to the coalition leaders.
The Council of State, which said Samaras had a right to reorganize ERT but not cut off its signal nor shut it down in the meantime, was also set to meet again on June 20 to try to clarify the complex ruling which has been interpreted differently by the political camps, and issue another decision on June 21, continuing the suspense and anxiety that early elections can’t yet be ruled out.