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Greece’s Coalition Government Teeters Over Broadcaster Spat (1)

June 21, 2013

Greece’s Coalition Government Teeters Over Broadcaster Impasse

Protest banners hang from the offices of the state broadcaster ERT in Athens. Photographer: Kostas Tsironis/Bloomberg

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras may lose a coalition partner over his closure of the country’s state broadcaster ERT, heightening concern about his government’s stability.

Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis met with his lawmakers this morning in Athens to decide whether to withdraw from the government. He condemned Samaras yesterday for defying a court ruling to reopen ERT, which Samaras shut down without consultation on June 11. Kouvelis insisted on ERT reopening with all 2,600 employees while Samaras’s other coalition partner, Pasok party leader Evangelos Venizelos, accepted a proposal by Samaras for fewer workers.

“Today we close one year of government and three years remain -- which we should complete for the sake of the Greek people,” Samaras said in an address to the nation on Mega TV after meeting with his coalition partners. “Kouvelis wants us to return to a shameful status quo with excess workers where nothing is changed and where there’s no hope that one day something will change at ERT.”

The departure of Democratic Left and its 14 lawmakers from the government would still leave Samaras with a parliamentary majority. His New Democracy and Pasok deputies give him 153 seats in the 300-seat legislature. Samaras needs to be able to convince the euro area and International Monetary Fund that he has the broad support needed to pass the structural reforms and budget cuts that are a condition for the country’s 240 billion euros ($317 billion) of bailout loans.

Greek 10-year government bonds fell for a third day, pushing the yield up 74 basis points to 11.4 percent at 9:04 a.m. London time, the highest level since April 29. The benchmark Athens general index declined a third day, losing as much as 1 percent at the start of trading.

A departure by Kouvelis’s Democratic Left would require Samaras to replace that party’s ministers in the Cabinet, precipitating a reshuffle that may include more lawmakers from Pasok. Samaras doesn’t need to seek a vote of confidence from Parliament unless he requests one or one is submitted by the main opposition party, Syriza.

Even without Kouvelis, Samaras might be able to count on support from some independent lawmakers.

“It’s not a political crisis, it’s turbulence,” Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras told reporters in Luxembourg last night after a meeting of euro-area finance ministers. “It’ll pass.”

Venizelos said the government must re-establish the basis of its cooperation without “surprises” and unilateral actions. While Venizelos has criticized Samaras’s actions over ERT, he reiterated last night that the country should avoid early elections and that the government should serve the remainder of its term.

With opinion polls showing Samaras only just ahead of anti-bailout party Syriza, and Pasok likely to win less than the 12 percent share the group gained in the June 2012 vote, a new round of elections could lead to renewed turmoil.

Samaras shut down ERT even as his coalition partners objected, saying he will replace it with a “modern” operation employing fewer people. The move was necessary to allow Greece to meet lender targets for public-sector job cuts, he said. The decision was enacted by legislative act, sidestepping Parliament.

To contact the reporters on this story: Marcus Bensasson in Athens at; Tom Stoukas in Athens at; Paul Tugwell in Athens at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Craig Stirling at; Andrew Rummer at; Jerrold Colten at

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