Leftists Pull Out Greek Coalition Over Public Broadcaster Row

Conservative prime minister Antonis Samaras is left with a three-seat majority in the legislature.

Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras arrives for a European People's Party summit, March 14
Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras arrives for a European People’s Party summit, March 14 (EPP)

The smallest party in Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras’ coalition pulled out of the government on Friday, outraged by his unilateral decision to shut down the public broadcaster ERT.

While Samaras’ conservatives and the social democrats have a three-seat majority in the legislature, the Democratic Left’s exit might make it harder to enact tough economic and fiscal reforms that Greece’s international creditors demand in exchange for hundreds of billions of euros in financial aid.

The premier seemed defiant in a television address after the collapse of three party talks about the future of ERT. “I want us to continue together as we started but I will move on either way,” he pledged.

Officials from all three parties have ruled out snap elections which would derail the Balkan nation’s bailout program. “The Democratic Left insists on its reform policy and will continue to seek and demand solutions within the European reality,” party leader Fotis Kouvelis said in a statement. His fourteen lawmakers may yet continue to vote with the government in parliament to keep the reform effort on track.

The Democratic Left, a pro-European party that resisted austerity measures, was included in the coalition after elections in June of last year to give the new government a sense of national unity. The senior partners, Samaras’ conservative New Democracy and the socialist Pasok, had ruled Greece in alternation since democracy was restored in 1974 and were widely blamed for causing the country’s economic problems by borrowing more than it could afford, extending extremely generous public-sector pay and benefits, doling out government contracts as political favors and failing to liberalize business laws and the labor market.

The coalition has constantly bickered over austerity measures. Lawmakers from Samaras’ party accused the Democratic Left of blocking public-sector reforms needed to secure bailout funds from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

The latest crisis began ten days ago when the prime minister abruptly cut the ERT’s radio and television broadcasts and fired its workers, sparking an outcry from the other ruling parties and Greece’s trade unions.

Describing the ERT as a “wasteful” hotbed of political patronage, Samaras said the move was necessary to meet the public-sector layoff targets set by Greece’s lenders. He later claimed to have offered a compromise to rehire two-thirds of ERT’s workers and set up a new broadcaster that was accepted by Pasok but rejected by the Democratic Left.

Under the terms of its most recent bailout, Greece must take 150,000 civil servants off the payroll this year.

The country that triggered Europe’s sovereign debt crises received €110 billion in financial assistance in 2010 and was promised a second bailout worth €130 billion in February that is being paid out in tranches. More than half of Greece’s €350 billion debt was also subject to “haircuts” at the time. Banks and private investors were forced to write off billions in Greek bonds.