Not a lot of news in PM speech
Most analysts are describing the inaugural speech by new prime minister Lucas Papademos as nothing new. Athens News best describes the commentators mood when it said that the speech was “delivered in the subdued, uninspiring tones of a lifelong technocrat”.
The speech itself concentrated on the need to meet the EU/IMF bailout conditions required to receive the next tranche of money of €8 billion which is needed by December.
In his speech Papademos pointed out that the consequences of austerity are unemployment, business closure and social unrest. Figures released this week report that unemployment has risen to 18.4% in August, normally a month when increased tourism would bring the jobless total down.
The prime minister may be right also with regard to social unrest. This Thursday 17th November is the anniversary of the 1973 student uprising that toppled the then military junta – equally large protests are expected this week but with many middle class people joining the angry protests.
The prime ministers solutions to the austerity problems is to move faster with structural reforms, quickly absorb the €14bn in ESPA (EU) funds designed for infrastructure projects such as highways and increase investment in renewable energy. Unfortunately none of these are likely to produce rapid results; structural reforms could reap benefits within two or three years and the ESPA will have limited impact on jobs.
Other initiatives are to implement as quickly as possible the unified civil service wage schedule, the labour reserve layoffs (around 30,000) and labour deregulation.
The prime minister also talked about privatisation, a recent sale for the new mobile spectrum has raised €380.5 million but he has not named any companies likely to be privatised. He also talked about reforming the judicial system and overhauling public administration.
All of these reforms were part of the previous governments plans and do not introduce anything new other than a need to implement them faster.
The real sticking point will be getting all the signatures required by the European Commission to release the next tranche of money. Everyone has agreed to sign except for main opposition New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras. He has said that he would not sign the required letter supporting implementation of the bailout deal because it is a “humiliating affront to national dignity”.
Samaras has also made it clear that New Democracy sees the present government as a stop gap until such time as elections can be held. There are signs that he may be struggling to keep his own party together as the crisis in the country deepens and his leadership is put into question.
Despite these difficulties the new government is expected to win its vote of confidence in parliament this afternoon.