REPORTING FROM ATHENS –- With the clock ticking on Greece’s bid to step back from the brink of bankruptcy, new Prime Minister Lucas Papademos faces a crucial confidence vote Wednesday on sharp austerity measures in exchange for more bailout funds.
Papademos is expected to win a ringing endorsement from the country’s 300-seat parliament, seen as an important step toward winning back investor confidence in Greece's commitment to belt-tightening measures, reforms and a complex bailout package crafted by European leaders last month.
“This is a last chance for our country,” Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos told lawmakers at the start of a three-day debate ahead of the confidence vote. “It is a chance that must be exploited to the utmost.”
Papademos, a staid, soft-speaking former central bank governor who helped usher Greece into the Eurozone 11 years ago, was picked to head a unity government last week after former Prime Minister George Papandreou quit amid intense political turmoil sparked by his decision to put the new and unpopular European bailout plan to a referendum.
The new power-sharing government consists of Greece's Socialist party, the conservative New Democracy party and a small, far-right group, but cracks are already showing in the coalition.
Eurozone leaders want written assurances from the three parties that they will do whatever is necessary to make the new bailout work, meaning ever-more painful austerity measures in exchange for $170 billion in emergency aid and a massive write-down of Greece’s near-$500 billion debt. Failure to do so, they warn, will block disbursal of $11 billion in rescue funds which Greece needs to avoid bankruptcy by mid-December.
Earlier this week, New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras refused to heed European officials' demands for a written statement of commitment to the plan, saying details of the agreement had yet to be negotiated and that added austerity would sink the country deeper into recession.
“I don’t sign such statements,” Samaras said. “They are humiliating. My word should be sufficient."
-- Anthee Carassava
Photo: New Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos listens to debate in parliament Tuesday ahead of a crucial confidence vote to take place Wednesday. Credit: Simela Pantzartzi / EPA