Samaras, Venizelos Confront Complaints

ATHENS – As Greece is poised to formally assume the symbolic, rotating six-month European Union Presidency with a ceremony this week, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his coalition partner, PASOK Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos will meet on Jan. 6 to discuss how to quell growing political unrest over a growing number of issues.

Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative leader, oversees an administration with only a three-vote majority in the 300-member Parliament and Venizelos is struggling to keep some of his 26 lawmakers from supporting a reversal of a 25 euro hospital admission fee he had ordered them to vote for.

The Independent Greeks, a minor party of New Democracy-style breakaways, is pushing for a vote on the hospital fee as some PASOK MPs are grumbling that it makes their party look insensitive and callous as it falls further in the polls.

But there are other items that are dogging the two-party government as well, including the return of envoys from international lenders who want more reforms and for a plan to close a 1.4 billion euro hole in the 2014 budget.

The officials from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) are due back in Athens at the same time that Samaras wants the negotiations wrapped up to prevent distraction as Greece tries to handle the EU Presidency and its lingering economic crisis.

Dozens of foreign officials are expected to attend an otherwise low-key event on Jan. 8 in which Greece takes the helm of the EU, a titular honor with virtually no power.

Many critics, however, said the country doesn’t deserve it because it can’t even deal with its own problems. Ironically, some of the items on the agenda for Greece to deal with at the EU level are those at which it has failed domestically, such as aiding immigrants and propping up banks and the euro.