Greek coalition in turmoil over public TV closure

21.06.13 @ 10:05

  1. By Valentina Pop
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Berlin - The Greek governing coalition may lose a junior partner over the decision to shut down the public broadcaster, with the IMF upping the pressure on Athens to push through money-saving reforms.

  • Prime Minister Samaras is under pressure to fire public sector workers (Photo: European People's Party)

The leftist Democratic Party is due to meet on Friday (21 June) to decide if they continue to support Prime Minister Antonis Samaras after unsuccessful talks among the coalition partners over how to resume the activities of the public broadcaster ERT, which was closed earlier this month.

Fotis Kouvelis, the leader of the Democratic Party, has said that the broadcaster should be reopened with all its 2,600 employees, but the prime minister is under pressure from the troika of international lenders to cut back on state employees in order to guarantee the next tranche of bailout money.

“Kouvelis wants us to return to a shameful status quo with excess workers where nothing is changed and where there’s no hope that one day something will change at ERT," Samaras said in an address to the nation on Mega TV.

If the Democrats withdraw their support, Samaras would be left with a three-seat majority together with the Social Democrat Pasok party in the 300-seat legislature. So far, EU politicians have praised Samaras for gathering a broad parliamentary support for the reforms and budget cuts needed for the €110 billion bailout to be paid out.

Meanwhile, finance minister Yannis Stournaras sought to downplay the political storm in Athens. "It’s not a political crisis, it’s turbulence. It will pass," he told reporters in Luxembourg on Thursday.

The ERT was shut down on 11 June despite the coalition parties opposing the move, as Samaras sought to end an "untrasparent" institution "notorious for wasting public money" and replace it with a leaner structure with less employees.

The measure sparked outrage both internally and abroad, among journalist unions and media freedom activists.

An administrative court on Thursday confirmed a previous ruling against the ERT closure and called for a transitional, smaller broadcaster to go on air immediately. The TV station remains off air, but an internet version is available.

The EU commission has continued to praise Greece for staying on track with its reforms.

"Greece is making progress in terms of recovering the confidence needed for the country to go back to growth," commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said Thursday.

When asked about the ERT shutdown and plans to start a smaller operation, he said: "I hope they will be successful and we are supporting them."

Gerry Rice, a spokesman at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), one of Greece's international creditors, has upped the pressure.

He said Greece's progress is still being reviewed and urged the government to continue with reforms so the money keeps flowing.

“The priority remains for the Greek authorities to deliver on the programme quickly. If the review is concluded by the end of July, as expected, no financing problems will arise because the programme is financed till end-July 2014.”