Greece’s coalition splits over closure of state broadcaster

The three party coalition government in Greece has broken down. The sudden decision on June 11th, of the New Democracy prime minister, Antonis Samaras, to shut down the state broadcaster ERT, with a promise to open a new state broadcaster in about two months, and his subsequent refusal to re-open it,despite an apparent, although ambiguous, request to do so by the Council of State, has been opposed by both ND’s coalition parties, the traditional socialist party, Pasok, and the newer Demcoratic Left. But Pasok is not taking any action to put pressure on the prime minister to change, while the Democratic Left, after ten days of indecision, resigned from the government on June 21st. This leaves the government with a majority of three but the Democratic Left has indicated it will not try to bring down the government.

 Motivation for sudden move is unclear

The motivation for the abrupt move of the prime minister to close ERT and his refusal to back down is unclear. A pessimistic interpretation could see it as a move to set up a new broadcaster as a New Democracy propaganda vehicle. An optimistic view would be that Mr Samaras decided to create a sense of crisis to push through expenditure cuts and reforms in one sector, which would act as precedent for radical change in other sectors such as the large array of state funded entities and the privileged professions which in spite of new legislation continue to restrict entry. But, with the troika (IMF. ECB and European Commission) breathing down his neck, it could be simply an emergency measure to save money and meet the troika’s immediate demands.

The first interpretation that he wants to control the media seems unlikely, at any right as a sole motivation, given that ERT has not taken an anti-government position, and an overtly pro-government and specifically pro Democracy stance would not be able to gloss over the actual situation of high unemployment and much reduced pay for most of those who have jobs. With regard to the second interpretation that he is deliberately creating a crisis in one sector in order to push through wider reforms, it is odd that Mr Samaras would choose the public sector broadcaster as the field in which to fight an iconic battle (its 2,900 employees are less than half a percent of total public sector employment) and unclear why he could not have just reduced the funding available to the broadcaster, so forcing it to make cuts but not to shut down. It could be that he deliberately wanted to provoke Democratic Left to resign because it had been difficult partner blocking reforms across the spectrum. Redundancies from the ERT or elsewhere in the public sector are likely to move people from the public administration payroll to the public welfare roll, with little chance of many finding new jobs. But the drastic measure of closing down ERT could create a few openings for the army of young people looking for their first job.

This crisis one year into the government’s four year term comes as the economy moves deeper into the dark tunnel it entered four years ago with no reason to expect improvement in the foreseeable future.

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