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Greek Court Leaves ERT, Coalition In Limbo

ert_samaras_kouvelis_venizelosAfter Greece’s highest court effectively overturned his snap decision to shut down the country’s national broadcaster ERT, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras faces more crisis talks with his coalition partners who said they saw the ruling as a vindication for their opposition to its closing as the Premier hopes to convince them he still must go ahead with a restructuring.  The stations operated by ERT remained dark.
Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative party leader, earlier had said that ERT would be replaced with a new entity, NERIT, by the end of the summer and that only 1000-1200 of the 2,656 workers who were fired would be brought back. PASOK Socialist chief Evangelos Venizelos and Democratic Left (DIMAR) head Fotis Kouvelis, his partners, said they want everyone rehired and for the old ERT to stay on the air, although they had agreed to the firing of 2,000 workers overall to meet demands by international lenders. They didn’t see where the cuts should be made.
The three leaders are set to meet again on June 19 to find some common ground and a compromise to avert a collapse of the government and new elections. Without PASOK and DIMAR, Samaras does not have enough votes in the Parliament, which must ratify his decision. The court decision could buy time for all of them, however, and provide a face-saving way out of the immediate dilemma.
The Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, in a preliminary ruling until it can hear the full facts of the complaint brought by ERT workers, provided a temporary solution, ruling that the government has the right to close ERT but limited programming should continue to be aired on the broadcaster’s frequency.
The ruling appeared to be a formula that would allow Samaras to proceed with plans to overhaul ERT while appeasing objections by coalition partners. But interpretations of the decision varied.
Venizelos said the government needs to be overhauled, suggesting a reshuffling of the Cabinet. He had not allowed any of his members to take ministerial positions. “The talks were about ERT, but the main issue is for the government to operate as a real coalition, not with New Democracy just tolerating its partners,” Venizelos said. He called on Samaras to “examine the ruling” and take “bold moves.”
Kouvelis criticized Samaras for taking the “unilateral action” to close ERT by decree, without consulting his partners or going to Parliament first, a move that led other critics to say the Prime Minister had become authoritarian.
Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, who also attended the talks, said he believed the ruling meant ERT should stay closed while a temporary program is broadcast. “The big issue for the government is for radical reforms to continue,” he said, expressing hopes that coalition leaders would “converge” in fresh talks.
In talks on June 17 while the court deliberated, Samaras and Venizelos both submitted written proposals for breaking the deadlock, media reports said. The premier’s was a nine-point proposal foreseeing the establishment of a committee to hire staff for the crossover period from ERT to the new broadcaster, the launch of a debate on the new organization and the appointment of a deputy minister to oversee the overhaul.
Venizelos’s proposal meanwhile reportedly outlined an alternative plan for some 2,000 layoffs in the civil service though it remained unclear whether dismissals would involve staff at ERT.
As the coalition partners debated, a few blocks away, the leader of the main leftist opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) Alexis Tsipras, addressed a rally in Syntagma Square where he called the ERT debacle “a firework that went off in (Samaras’) hands.”
Speculation had been rife over the weekend about the deepening rift in the government possibly triggering early elections and putting Greece’s economic reform program – and rescue loans – in jeopardy.
The need for political stability in Greece was underlined by European officials. Speaking in Brussels, European Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly said that Greece’s political leaders needed to show responsibility to ensure political stability and fiscal consolidation, which Samaras seemed to have done until the ERT affair undermined him.
European Monetary and Economic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said that, “the last thing Greece needs is a new crisis” and called for a swift solution to the government’s dispute.
The President of the rightist European People’s Party (EPP), Wilfried Martens, expressed support for Samaras. In a statement, Martens said that ERT’s closure was  inevitable, noting that numerous efforts for the national broadcaster’s restructuring while in operation had failed.

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