Hospital Fee Flap Tests Greek Coalition Standing

ATHENS – After surviving a series of crucial tests over unpopular austerity measures, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ shaky coalition now faces a battle as his partner, PASOK Socialist chief Evangelos Venizelos, is under siege from critics in his party, and a possible vote over whether to reverse a 25 euro hospital admission fee that is undermining support for the government.

Venizelos, who is the Deputy Prime Minister/Foreign Minister serving Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative leader, gave his support and party’s 27 votes to the fee but now is trying to distance himself from it and has called for exemptions for the poor and those in the military, but not the unemployed.

The coalition has only a three-vote majority in the 300-member Parliament and Samaras also has to worry about the fate of one of his 126 lawmakers who is being charged with breach of duty for his role in a bad loan scandal while serving in a prefectural government.

Samaras, trying to head off a rebellion in PASOK and keep the party in line on the hospital fee, has scheduled a critical meeting with Venizelos on Jan. 6.

Dissidents in PASOK are upset he has tied himself so closely to Samaras as the Leftists have plunged to barely 5 percent support in polls and are fading almost out of existence after getting 44 percent in 2009 when it won the elections.

Venizelos was elevated by Samaras last year after abandoning his opposition to the firing of state workers at the national broadcaster ERT, which was shut down, and for supporting more crushing austerity measures which have created record unemployment and record poverty while ramping up anger against the ruling parties.

“Today’s situation is not the destiny of PASOK. Those people who are content with a small PASOK disconnected from society, a small store for personal gains, are ignoring the fact the new left was never small in this country,” it was reported his critics said, with the imbroglio becoming critical Greek news for the wobbly government.

“For us though, PASOK’s total accession to the government and his total alignment with New Democracy was not a one-way street. There were alternatives that were ruled out,” they added.

The Independent Greeks, a breakaway group of New Democracy types and right-wingers, are calling for a vote on the hospital fee which was imposed by Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis, a key Samaras confidante, who has been defiant that it will stand.

The fee flap comes as well during a sensitive time of bitterness that an uninsured cancer patient who couldn’t get into a state hospital died from his illness and with some New Democracy lawmakers complaining that PASOK is trying to look compassionate and leave the Conservatives with an image as uncaring and callous.

The political unrest come at a crucial time for the government as well in another way as Greece this week will formally assume the duties as the rotating head of the European Union Presidency with a ceremony in Athens and as envoys from its international lenders are due back to resume negotiations over unresolved reforms and a 1.4 billion euro hole in the 2014 budget.

They said the country could continue with an ecumenical government or with PASOK simply providing a Parliamentary vote of confidence under specific conditions and guarantees, putting transparent green lines of platform co-operation.

The critics, who were not identified, didn’t mention that they had obeyed Venizelos’ orders to support the austerity measures they now claim to oppose.

“Those who dream of a strategy of stabilizing the co-operation with the Right Wing, with or without European party New Greece are presumptuous,” they added, according to the site Newsit.

“PASOK’s strategy cannot be anything else but re-defining its relation with the citizens and restructuring the big democratic party,” they added.

None of this was mentioned when PASOK recently held its party congress and the people who are criticizing him now backed him then.

There was a suggestion that Venizelos was acting out of personal ego and to keep a high profile but that he’s effectively cutting bridges to the other leftists in Greece by working with Samaras.

If he had not joined the coalition, PASOK would be a marginalized, essentially irrelevant party of back-benchers with barely enough support to stay in Parliament.

They noted The 58 Initiative, a loose assembly of intellectuals, academics and varied others who want a unified left, are unhappy with his decision to align himself with Conservatives and Right-Wingers instead of his natural allies on the left.

The PASOK dissidents offered a series of platitudinous policies, calling for a Greece that is just and has a future for its young, who are fleeing fast for other countries. That would mean reversing support for the measures they have supported but which none said they were willing to do beyond giving contradictory statements.