ATHENS – The building tension in Greece’s shaky coalition government boiled over in a Cabinet meeting, when PASOK Socialist Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos tangled with far Right-Wing LAOS Infrastructure Minister Makis Voridis over proposed changes in laws over the statute of limitations and divorce. Interim Prime Minister Lucas Papademos also has ministers from the conservative New Democracy in his tripartite government, and politicians from that party have also experienced tensions and friction with other members of the government.
Media reports said that Venizelos, who has a reputation as a bombastic speaker, took umbrage when Voridis disagreed with an idea to let divorces be settled out of court. Voridis jumped in and said LAOS vehemently disputed the idea, leading Venizelos to say, “People who are shouting have to understand they are wrong, making a mistake.”
Voridis immediately fired back. “This is not a PASOK government. It’s a government of three partners and this is something you should take into consideration.” An irritated Venizelos snapped back: “Be careful how you speak,” and Voridis came right back at him, declaring “I’ll talk any way I want,” adding to the growing tension in the room and leading the mild-mannered Papademos to intervene. “We’re here so that all sides can be heard,” he said, putting an end to what media reports called a “cock fight” between the feuding ministers.
The anxiety has been amping up as Papademos is trying to keep New Democracy from opposing his plans to reduce auxiliary pensions that are critical for the elderly. New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras said his party wouldn’t support the cuts; although he has previously taken this stance, stating that he wouldn’t go along with more austerity measures to keep international loans coming, his position has been unsteady.
The situation has deteriorated to the point that Greek President Karolas Papoulias has chimed in and offered to help Papademos get his ministers to focus on getting a second bailout, this one for $175 billion, from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank, after a first rescue package of $152 billion in loans has failed to stem the country’s slide toward economic oblivion. Papademos is trying to right Greece ahead of elections that were set for Feb. 19, but now seem certain to be delayed as his administration is far behind schedule in completing its work.
Papademos is set to meet with his government’s leaders on Dec. 23, a critical meeting that will be observed by the Troika. Following the collapse of talks on plans to cut auxiliary pensions earlier this week, and with mounting speculation about early elections threatening to hamper the progress of reforms demanded by the country’s international creditors, Papademos aims to establish a common position with the leaders of his tripartite coalition. The newspaper Kathimerini reported that Papoulias told Papademos he was worried about the absence of political consensus at such a critical time for Greece but was reassured by the Premier, who said the problems would be ironed out.
Even the date of the elections is being contested, with LAOS leader George Karatzaferis frequently changing his mind over his stance, while Venizelos said early elections are out of the question because the government is trying to negotiate a write down of 50 percent of much of its debt with investors. He said the talks are going well but the creditors, who said they are facing 65 percent losses, dispute it.