Greek officials on March 16 were pushing to meet a self-imposed deadline by the end of the day to conclude a long-sought deal with envoys from official lenders before a next-day session of Eurozone finance ministers in hopes of getting approval for a delayed nine billion euros ($12.5 billion) installment.
Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos, the PASOK Socialist chief in the coalition government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ New Democracy-led administration, earlier said he saw no reason why there wouldn’t be an agreement with the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) which has eluded Greece for seven months.
Government officials were talking with the Troika on a series of contentious issues but the obstacles remained the same: 153 unfinished reforms, delays in overhauling the civil service, and a lag in breaking up professional monopolies to make Greece more competitive.
But the biggest problem that has emerged is the Troika’s insistence on scrapping automatic wage increases for those on minimum pay, which is currently set at 586.08 euros per month.Samaras has sworn he would never ever again impose austerity measures and the freezing of the already-reduced minimum wage has become a sore point and Greek officials fear it could also increase already-record unemployment.
The newspaper Kathimerini said it was told by sources it didn’t name that Samaras would give in on locking in the minimum wage for for the long-term unemployed who wouldn’t get pay hikes.
The Troika is also believed to be pushing to end restrictions on firing private sector workers, which would further add to the numbers of jobless and wants another 2,000 public workers fired through 2015, which would force Samaras to break his promise not to release any more civil servants.
Samaras is also butting heads with the Troika over what to do with an expected primary surplus of 1.5 billion euros ($2.07 billion) as he has promised to return 70 percent of it to low-income pensioners, police and the military, ahead of critical elections in May for Greek municipalities and the European Parliament which see New Democracy locked in a tight race behind the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA). PASOK has become irrelevant.
But the Troika reportedly wants the sum to be drawn from the amount by which Greece overshoots its 2014 primary surplus target of 2.9 billion euros ($4.03 billion.) SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras has predicted the ruling parties will be repudiated in the May elections and force early polls which will see him come to power before then. He said he would revise or renege on the Troika deals.