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Venizelos Talks Tough to Would-Be PASOK Rebels

Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos is thirsting for more taxes and pay cuts

ATHENS – Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos reiterated that Greece will do whatever it takes, including following the demands of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank Troika lending the country $152 billion to stay afloat, and challenged private dissenters in his ruling PASOK Socialist party to support the measures, shut up, or bring down the government if they are unhappy. His comments came as foreign auditors indicated that Greece was on track to receive the next loan installment of $11 billion in crucial emergency funding, and ahead of a critical Parliamentary vote in which some MP’s from PASOK are said to be wavering.
Responding to a barrage of criticism from PASOK lawmakers, including some senior cadres and former ministers, Venizelos said, “If you believe that this government is dishonest, unethical and ineffective, then bring it down.” He and Prime Minister George Papandreou want to stifle dissent despite fears by some party members that PASOK is committing political suicide by ramming through waves of pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and scores of thousands of layoffs. Venizelos told private television channel Mega that new measures heralded by the government must be voted through Parliament before October 23 when EU leaders are due to hold their next summit. The new measures include an across-the-board pay structure for civil servants, a scheme pushing thousands of public workers into early retirement or redundancy, and a new tax system overhaul.
Speaking in Parliament, former minister and Socialist party stalwart Vasso Papandreou condemned Venizelos for approving fresh cuts to wages and pensions instead of closing 77 state agencies that she claimed have been set up in the past two years. Arguing that some executives at state enterprises have annual salaries of more than $400,000 while Venizelos has ordered new taxes for people making $6,000, she asked why the bank accounts of minister who have served over the past 30 years have not been opened and why major tax evaders have not been arrested. Tax evaders are costing the country more than $40 billion a year in lost revenue but continue to defy the government. Another former minister, Louka Katseli, reportedly angered Venizelos by calling on the government to take measures to boost growth instead of raising taxes.
Christos Protopappas, another senior PASOK member, expressed outrage at pressure from Greece’s foreign auditors for the abolition of the collective labor contract and an end to the minimum wage guaranteeing workers $775 a month, almost 15 times less than what a Member of Parliament earns. “That will not pass through this parliamentary group,” he said.
Germany, Europe’s dominant economy, is pushing for a bigger reduction in Greece’s debt burden to forge a lasting solution to the debt crisis that has roiled markets and shaken confidence in the euro. European leaders are struggling to develop a strategy to shore up banks amid talk of deeper-than-planned writedowns on Greek debt. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Oct. 9 after meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy that a report from the team of inspectors later this month will help determine the next steps. Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme said yesterday a crisis summit now scheduled for Oct. 23 should focus on boosting the 440 billion-euro ($600 billion) rescue fund instead of reopening the July accord to cut Greek bond values by an average of 21 percent, the news agency Bloomberg reported.
The European Central Bank also opposes Germany’s push to rewrite the Eurozone’s second planned bailout of $157 billion as leaders prepare the ground for a potential Greek default, a central bank official said. Venizelos said talks with the heads of the mission of Troika inspectors, had effectively ended and that they will need about 10 days to prepare their report before deciding whether the new installment will be released.

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