Talks on Greek coalition to start soon

Monday 07 November 2011 10.35
George Papandreou has indicated that he will stand down
George Papandreou has indicated that he will stand down

Greece's president will summon the heads of the country's political parties "without delay" at the request of Prime Minister George Papandreou in an attempt to break a political stalemate.

The move came after President Karolos Papoulias held an hour-long meeting with Mr Papandreou, who had earlier won an confidence motion in the Greek parliament.

The head of state will discuss with the top politicians "the opportunities for co-operation," as Mr Papandreou scrambles to forge a unity government to pull the crisis-hit country out of its debt plight.

The aim of this unity government would be to push through the EU bailout plan agreed last week in Brussels designed to keep the near-bankrupt country afloat, according to Mr Papandreou.

"The application of this deal is the precondition for us staying in the euro. It's as important as that," he said.

However, it remains unclear whether he will be able to secure the support of the opposition conservatives.

Their leader, Antonis Samaras, stuck to his demand for early elections, which Mr Papandreou said would be ''catastrophic''.

Under intense pressure from European partners and facing a rebellion within his own socialist ranks, Mr Papandreou indicated in a half-hour address to MPs in the early hours of this morning that he would step aside.

"I am not interested in a chair, the last thing I am interested in is whether I am re-elected," said Mr Papandreou, who swept to a landslide national election victory in 2009.

However, Mr Samaras defiantly held out for snap elections, raising the spectre of renewed political deadlock in the country, which could delay the payment of much-needed aid and intensify the eurozone debt crisis.

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos announced recently that Greece "absolutely needed" by 15 December an €8bn slice of aid from a 2010 EU rescue package.

"The mask has fallen. Papandreou has rejected our proposals and he must take responsibility for that," said Mr Samaras, who heads the opposition New Democracy party.

"Elections are now the only answer", he added.

Meanwhile, the parliamentary head of Mr Papandreou's socialist Pasok party, Christos Protopapas, warned that the talks could still end in failure.

"I would like to believe that there is still room for manoeuvre, but the crisis is getting worse," Mr Protopapas told Net public television.

"What the Greeks want - a team led by a third person, neither Papandreou nor Samaras - is in the process of being lost. It's dangerous," he said.

Two polls taken by Greek newspapers will give Mr Papandreou some comfort, however, as both showed stronger support for a national unity government, rather than for early snap elections.

One poll commissioned by Proto Thema newspaper showed 52% of the public are in favour of the plan being put forward by Mr Papandreou, while 36% want snap elections as proposed by the conservative opposition.

Another poll commissioned by Ethnos newspaper puts support for the rival ideas at 45% and 41.7% respectively.

Elsewhere, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned in her weekly webcast that Europe would need a decade to clean up its finances and emerge from the current debt crisis.

"Everyone in Europe must make an effort to achieve all that is required," Ms Merkel said.