Greek PM faces crucial confidence vote

June 21, 2011 - 4:14 AM

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou faces a crucial parliamentary vote of confidence in the new cabinet he formed to face down increasing opposition to austerity measures needed to avoid a national debt default.

A default by Greece, where the country finds itself unable to pay back its debts, could spark a financial maelstrom around the world, dragging down Greek and European banks as well as stoking renewed fears over the public finances of other euro countries, such as Portugal, Ireland and Spain.

If Papandreou's new government fails to get the necessary Parliamentary support in a midnight vote Tuesday, it would throw into question whether it can pass a critical new austerity bill by the end of the month. Without parliamentary approval for the new measures, Greece will not get the next installment of its bailout — funds the country needs to avoid default.

The prevailing view is that Papandreou will get the necessary support. His socialist party holds a five-seat majority in the 300-member legislature, and a simple majority is needed to pass.

Should he clear the confidence hurdle, Papandreou faces the potentially more difficult task of getting Parliament to back the new austerity package.

Facing ongoing budget shortfalls, Greece's government must impose more spending cuts and tax hikes by the end of the month if it is to receive the next installment from its euro110 billion international bailout in mid-July — just in time to avoid a default.

If parliament approves the euro28 billion ($40 billion) worth of austerity measures, on top of an unpopular euro50 billion privatization program, then eurozone finance ministers will meet on July 3 to approve the next, euro12 billion installment of Greece's bailout loans.

Papandreou was forced to reshuffle his cabinet last week following a major political crisis that saw him face an open rebellion from within his own party and initiate talks to form a coalition government with the opposition, which eventually collapsed. He replaced his finance minister, appointing Evangelos Venizelos, the defense minister and his main rival from within the party, to the post.

Greece's European creditors and the International Monetary Fund are also pushing for the main opposition party to support the measures, which have already sparked violent street protests.

Protesters have scheduled rallies and demonstrations outside parliament in the early evening ahead of the confidence vote, while Greeks faced power cuts as part of a series of 48-hour rolling strikes called by workers at the power company against its privatization.

A key requirement from the eurozone and the IMF is that Greece steps up its privatization drive.

European officials are also discussing a similar-sized second bailout for Greece as it has become evident that Greece won't be able to return to the bond markets and raise money to pay creditors any time soon.

"I trust that the new Greek government will receive the confidence of parliament," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in Brussels late Monday after meeting with Papandreou, but added that the crucial vote was the one on the extra austerity package at the end of the month.

"I therefore trust that Greece's elected representatives will back these measures next week in a spirit of national and indeed European responsibility," Barroso said. "These choices are not easy, but nor are the problems that need to be addressed. Now is not the time to falter. Now is the time to redouble efforts: for the sake of the Greek people, and for all of Europe."

Greece's financial crisis has troubled markets across the world.

Japanese Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Tuesday Tokyo was ready to offer full support to help the world tackle the debt crisis, and suggested Japan would buy rescue bonds to help Greece.

"Japan has contributed by buying EFSF bonds for Portugal, and we would like to continue such efforts," Noda said, referring to the EU's bailout fund, the European Financial Stability Facility.

Japan bought euro1.1 billion worth of EFSF bonds to support Portugal in June.

____

Shino Yuasa in Tokyo contributed.