Greek government on ropes over ERT crisis

PM Antonis Samaras held an emergency meeting with his coalition allies as a furore over the shock shutdown of state broadcaster ERT threatened to bring down the govt.

Updated: Jun 17, 2013, 23:53 PM IST

Athens: Prime Minister Antonis Samaras held an emergency meeting with his coalition allies on Monday as a furore over the shock shutdown of state broadcaster ERT threatened to bring down the government.

The leaders of the smaller socialist and moderate leftist parties in his coalition have demanded the immediate and full restoration of ERT, with opinion polls showing that some two-thirds of Greeks also oppose the closure.

Also Monday, the main opposition party Syriza kicked off a rally on central Syntagma Square to demand early elections.

But other politicians cautioned against moves to oust the government, which last Tuesday suddenly made the broadcaster a casualty of its unpopular austerity drive.

"I would find it completely crazy to push for new elections here in Greece," said prominent Green Eurodeputy Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who is in Athens to support ERT.

"They (Greek parties) are behaving like children, there is no responsibility for the common good," he said during a meeting with bloggers.
Also on Monday, credit ratings agency Moody`s warned that "fraying political consensus" and "slippage" in its privatisation programme could cost Greece another downgrade.

The Athens stock exchange opened on Monday down 3.13 percent but later recouped most of the losses, closing down 1.27 percent.

Samaras` New Democracy party claims the broadcaster ate up 300 million euros ($400 million) a year for an overall viewer rating of four percent, less than half of its private competitors.

The conservative Prime Minister`s allies have urged him to back down from the heavily criticised ERT cull, warning that the coalition could collapse if he persists.

One of the allies on Monday hinted that another government-without Samaras as PM-could emerge from the current Parliamentary majority, if the coalition parties agreed to stick together.

"The country should not be led to elections. Parliament can give solutions other than this government, this can be one eventuality," moderate leftist party spokesman Andreas Papadopoulos told Skai Radio.

"The country does not need elections," socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos told Real News daily, but stressed that his party would not give in to "blackmail" and "shows of force".

Some analysts noted that government cohesion has already been irreparably damaged.

"Even if the leaders do not collide tonight, it will happen quite soon," political columnist Panaghis Galiatsatos told Skai Radio.
`A mentality of cronyism`
Persa Zeri of Athens` Pantion political science university, said the conflict showed that "a mentality of cronyism" persists within the coalition, "especially concerning the public sector".

"No one wants to change anything," she said. "The ERT was an unmanageable body, it`s true that it had to be shut down, but you can`t close it without an agreement within the coalition. There has to be a democratic dialogue."

The three-party coalition was already a delicate balancing act, with the socialists and moderate leftists forced to accept additional job cuts to safeguard Greece`s massive EU-IMF loan lifeline.

Three separate opinion polls on Sunday showed that Greeks rejected ERT`s closure by between around 64 and 68 percent- though a majority also opposed elections.

Samaras on Sunday accused his coalition partners of "hypocrisy", arguing that all three coalition party heads had agreed to chop 2,000 public-sector jobs to help keep Greece afloat.

"From where should we cut these jobs apart from the undeserving ERT... one of the bastions of obscurity and privileges?" Samaras told a party conference.

Samaras on Friday offered to partially reopen the broadcaster with a slimmed-down news service but his coalition partners rejected the proposal.

The government says it will compensate ERT`s almost 2,700 employees and has pledged to set up a new public broadcaster before the summer`s end with less than half the staff.

Employees have occupied ERT offices since the closure and kept up a rogue broadcast on the Internet, with assistance from the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and Greek radio stations.

The EBU on Monday condemned a threat by the Greek government to take legal action against the unauthorised broadcasts.

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble will visit Athens soon for talks with his Greek counterpart Yannis Stournaras on bilateral support to Greece.

The initiative would also aim to help create jobs through the swift establishment of a Greek investment bank, Schaeuble`s office said.

Schaeuble praised Samaras`s government for having "understood how to steer the Greek ship safely through the most difficult waters and has a good part of the reform path already behind it."

"Slowly the outlines of a more stable economic future are crystallising," he added.