A bid to close the state broadcaster discombobulates the ruling coalition
Mr Samaras pledged to have a lean new public broadcaster, with only 1,200 employees, up and running by August. But hundreds of protesters camped outside ERT’s headquarters. Other European public broadcasters voiced outrage at the closure; ERT employees streamed unofficial news programmes over the internet. The opposition Syriza party talked of “a coup against democracy.” And Mr Samaras’s coalition partners, the PanHellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok), and the Democratic Left, demanded the withdrawal of the decree closing ERT. Then a ruling by Greece’s highest court, in response to an appeal by the ERT’s trade union, said the broadcaster should reopen, though it backed the government’s right to restructure it.
For a few days, it seemed the government might collapse, but it is still wobbling along. Most Greeks prefer to keep the coalition and avoid a snap election. If one were held, Pasok might not win the 3% needed to enter parliament, according to polls; and Democratic Left’s leader might be unseated. A fiery speech by Alexis Tsipras, the Syriza leader, at an open-air rally outside parliament on June 17th drew fewer people than expected. Mr Samaras promises a cabinet reshuffle.
The ERT affair makes it harder to sell Greece’s “success story” of reform. In its year in office the coalition has done well on budget targets: there may be a small primary surplus (ie, before interest) this year. But unless the government can restructure the civil service and curb tax evasion, the bail-out will veer off track, fears the “troika” of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF.
Blips are appearing. The state health service is still overspending, despite the launch of a high-tech electronic prescription system designed to prevent chronic over-prescription by corrupt doctors and procurement staff. An overhaul of the tax administration is moving at snail’s pace, partly because young, well-qualified auditors are reluctant to sign up. Tax evasion by the rich continues unabated, according to the troika.
Privatisation has also fallen behind. Gazprom, the only prospective bidder, failed this month to make a binding offer for Depa, the state natural-gas supplier. Greece will miss this year’s target of €2.6 billion ($3.6 billion) from selling state assets, says Taiped, the privatisation agency. Yet one bright spot emerged on June 18th: Socar, Azerbaijan’s state gas company, agreed to pay €400m for a stake in Desfa, which runs the gas-pipeline network. The deal could herald investment in new pipelines to Bulgaria and Albania carrying Azeri natural gas to western Europe, says Makis Papageorgiou, the energy minister.