Greek gov't splits over broadcaster closure

Issue 

Democratic Left pulled its ministers out of Greece's ruling coalition cabinet on June 21 after talks to resume state television broadcasts collapsed.

MPs from the party, which makes up the third part of the ruling coalition, were angered by the abrupt shutdown of broadcaster ERT on June 11 and met to decide whether to continue backing Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

However, Samaras warned he was ready to press ahead without them. “I want us to continue together as we started, but I will move on either way,” he said, while promising to implement the massive public-sector cuts demanded by Greece's international creditors.

Samaras's conservative New Democracy party and its nominally social democratic PASOK ally jointly have 153 deputies, a very slim majority of three in the country's 300-member parliament.

That means they could manage without the Democratic Left, but the departure of the party will be a big blow.

The latest crisis began when Samaras abruptly shut down ERT, calling it a hotbed of waste and privilege which sparked an outcry from his two allies, concerned trade unions and journalists.

Greece's new Cabinet was sworn on June 23 after a reshuffle in which Samaras handed key posts to PASOK. The prime minister appointed new ministers for the posts of foreign affairs, justice, administrative reform, transport and defence.

Athens has promised its creditors a series of deep spending cuts and tax rises - but the measures have led to a deep recession, while unemployment has climbed to above 27 per cent.

The ERT closure was part of a pledge to fire 15,000 public-sector employees by the end of next year.

The prime minister was acting under pressure to fire public-sector employees to show Greece's European Union and International Monetary Fund lenders that it is sticking to promises to cut costs under its bailout program.

After initially refusing to restart ERT, Samaras said on June 20 that he would start a new broadcaster and rehire about 2000 out of the 2600 ERT workers who were fired, a compromise accepted by PASOK but rejected by Democratic Left.

Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis insisted that all workers be rehired and said the issue at stake was far bigger than state television broadcasts.

Kouvelis said: “This is fundamentally an issue of democracy. We are not responsible for the fact that no common ground was reached.”

Greece's top administrative court confirmed an earlier ruling suspending the closure on June 20, calling for a slimmed-down broadcaster to go on air immediately. But ERT remains off air despite the rulings and ERT workers have continued broadcasting a 24-hour bootleg version on the internet from their headquarters.

A new hitch in Greece's international bailout has also emerged with the discovery of a potential funding shortfall, due to the reluctance of some eurozone central banks to roll over their holdings of Greek government bonds.

[Reprinted from Morning Star Online.]