The Greek government's new pledge for speeding up painful structural reforms in order to address a severe debt crisis has drawn fierce reactions from opposition parties and strike warnings from labor unions.
Under the increasing pressure of the European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) lenders which over the past few days linked the disbursement of the next aid tranche to Athens to the progress of unprecedented reforms, Greek Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos pledged accelerated changes this fall.
In a sign of willingness to proceed without delays this time, the Greek government on Wednesday transferred a part of state assets in the Public Gas company and the Greek Petroleum company to a newly founded fund that oversees the privatization of public organizations.
This spring Greece pledged to raise at least 5 billion euros (about 7.04 billion U.S. dollars) from the privatization of public companies by year end of 2011 and up to 50 billion euros (about 70.45 billion dollars) by 2015.
But due to strong opposition its implementation was stalled, along with structural reforms regarding spending cut through the mergers of public sector organizations and changes in the labor market.The renewed commitment came a few days after deliberations between Greece and international EU and IMF auditors as the release of the next tranche was suspended amidst criticism that Athens lags in efforts to reach deficit reduction targets.
Greece narrowly escaped default in May 2010 securing a multi-billion euro bailout pact in exchange for a harsh three-year austerity and reform plan.
The latest pledge by the socialist government to fully implement the plan without further delays drew strong reactions by opposition political parties and labor unions.
Main opposition center-right party New Democracy talked about "a failed recipe that no longer convinces anyone", while Greek Communist Party General Secretary Aleka Papariga referred to a return to the Middle Ages for new generations.
The umbrella labor unions of civil servants and private sector employees, ADEDY (The Civil Servants' Confederation) and GSEE (The General Confederation of Greek Workers) respectively, denounced the measures as "an attack against the social welfare state", warning with a fresh wave of protests and strikes.Taxi drivers who object to liberalization of the sector and held marathon protests this summer, called for two new 24-hour warning strikes on Thursday and Saturday.
On Saturday Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou is due to present his government's economic policy for the coming months inaugurating a Trade Fair in the northern Greece city of Thessaloniki amidst massive protests by unions.
In the meantime, doctors in public hospitals will be on a 48-hour strike over the austerity policies and planned reforms to public healthcare on Thursday and Friday, while labor unions of customs and tax offices personnel and teachers in public schools schedule strike for later this month.