With Greece’s international lenders setting a deadline for the end of July 5 for the government to show progress on key reforms or face a delay or cut-off of an 8.1 billion euros ($10.6 billion) installment, negotiations reportedly were moving ahead well with predictions that an agreement would be reached in time for a July 8 meeting of Eurozone officials.
“There has been progress on all issues. More meetings will follow. We will have a political agreement by Monday,” Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said as he left Maximos Mansion where foreign inspectors met with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who was recently appointed Minister for Administrative Reform, also said progress had been made in the talks. “We will be ready by Monday,” he said. His talks with envoys from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) earlier on July 4 had reportedly been stalled, however.
Athens has already missed a June deadline to put 12,500 state workers into a so-called “mobility scheme,” under which they are transferred or laid off within a year and ultimately dismissed. The Troika also has been said not to have accepted the firing of 2,656 workers at the now-closed national broadcaster ERT as counting toward the goal because many of them will be rehired, either temporarily, or permanently when a replacement network called NERIT begins operation at the end of the summer.
Samaras’ coalition of his New Democracy Conservatives and the PASOK Socialists are working on a plan to restructure ERT, which remains off the air because the government has ignored a court ruling to restore the signal. The government aims to release 4,000 public workers by the end of the year. Not one had been let go until ERT was shut down while austerity measures created a record 27.4 percent unemployment rate in the private sector, putting 1.3 million people out of work.
“If a deal is reached with the employees the public broadcaster could start transmitting again in a matter of hours,” Deputy Culture Minister Pantelis Kapsis, who has been appointed to overhaul ERT, said on July 4. The government said it might bring back 2,000 workers for now and then keep a permanent staff of 1000-1200 to run NERIT.
The government got a pat on the back from visiting German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, whose country is footing much of the bill for $325 billion in two bailouts but has insisted on big pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions in return. He said Greece will get out from under its rushing $390 billion debt if it keeps firing people, reducing wages and makes more cuts to pensions.
“I come here with a message of respect, solidarity and encouragement,” Westerwelle said after a meeting with Samaras in Athens, who said that, “In spite of the difficult conditions, Greece is on a steady course.” He added: “No one would have expected that last year.”
Speaking after a meeting with his Greek counterpart Evangelos Venizelos the day before, Westerwelle dismissed speculation that Athens would need a further debt write-down while urging international creditors to recognize the country’s achievements. As finance minister in a previous government, Venizelos imposed 74 percent losses on private investors, nearly wiping out small bondholders in the Diaspora, and has mulled doing the same to public investors, which would make taxpayers in other Eurozone countries pay for Greece’s economic mistakes.