* Greek PM sees end to row over written austerity pledge
* Dispute threatens payment of next aid tranche
* Unions call strike for Dec. 1, angry over budget
By Lefteris Papadimas and Renee Maltezou
LUXEMBOURG/ATHENS, Nov 22 Greece's new
technocrat prime minister said on Tuesday he was confident
fractious politicians would soon provide a written commitment to
painful austerity measures as demanded by the EU that will
unlock funds needed to stave off bankruptcy.
But as Lucas Papademos tried to reassure EU officials in
Luxembourg, the conservative New Democracy party reiterated its
refusal to sign any pledge and Greece's main private and public
sector trade unions called a 24-hour strike for Dec. 1.
It will be the first major strike since Papademos, a former
vice president of the European Central Bank, formed his
three-party coalition to secure payment of an 8 billion euro aid
tranche to avert default in December.
"Our partners demand written commitments. They want
political leaders to send a letter of commitment over the
policies which will be implemented in the coming years,"
Papademos told reporters after talks with Eurogroup head
Jean-Claude Juncker in Luxembourg.
"I believe party leaders will fulfil their duty. I'm
optimistic that a solution will be found soon. This must be done
by the end of the month."
While two parties, the Socialist PASOK of fallen premier
George Papandreou and the far-right LAOS, have signalled
readiness to sign, New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras has
infuriated EU leaders by insisting his verbal consent is
The European Union and International Monetary Fund want the
written commitment because they suspect party leaders might
otherwise try to wriggle out of their responsibilities,
especially with an election pencilled in for Feb. 19.
"It has to be clear that there is also commitment from the
largest opposition leader (Samaras) to implement the package of
reforms. Saying that words are enough - we have passed that
stage," Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager said.
"We want a signature from this Mr Samaras. Otherwise they
(Greece) won't get money, absolutely not," De Jager told Dutch
television station RTL 7.
The Netherlands, Germany and Finland - three of the most
fiscally sound euro zone countries who particularly resent
having to bail out debt-ridden Greece - will meet on Friday to
discuss latest developments in Athens, De Jager said.
Political analysts say Samaras wants to distance himself
from the austerity measures and boost his party's support ahead
of an election in which he has said he believes he can win a
majority to govern Greece alone.
Opinion polls show New Democracy ahead of its rivals but
unlikely to be able to form a majority government.
Samaras, a Harvard-educated economist, has long opposed the
tax hikes and spending cuts backed by Papandreou, his bitter
rival and former college roommate, arguing that Greece - now in
its fourth year of recession - needs pro-growth policies.
"Everything that has been done (by Samaras) is sufficient
and complete," New Democracy spokesman Yannis Mihelakis told the
private ANT1 television channel, referring to the party's
support for the Papademos coalition and its 2012 draft budget.
Papademos, who was also due to meet the head of the European
Central Bank Mario Draghi in Frankfurt later on Tuesday, said
his government was focused on tackling the immediate economic
challenges facing Greece.
"I believe the new government will overcome the crisis and
achieve fiscal consolidation in Greece," he said, adding its
plans included steps to boost the economy's competitiveness.
Along with the December aid tranche, Greece is also hoping
its creditors will approve a 130 billion euro bailout agreed
last month to keep it afloat until 2014. This will replace the
original 110 billion package that has made up its aid so far.
But Papademos's government faces a number of hurdles in
implementing reforms, including staunch opposition by unions and
a population angered by years of austerity that have deepened
Greece's recession and lowered living standards.
STRIKE LOOMS, AGAIN
GSEE, the country's umbrella trade union representing about
2.5 million private sector workers, called a strike for Dec. 1
to protest against the 2012 budget, which is scheduled to be
approved by parliament on Dec. 7.
"The strike is against this budget of austerity and social
spending cuts," GSEE spokesman Stathis Anestis said.
Public sector trade union ADEDY, which represents about
500,000 state employees, said it too would join the walkout. It
also said unions planned some sort of action on Dec. 7.
The 2012 budget includes a series of tax increases and
spending cuts to ensure the budget deficit falls to at least 6.7
percent of GDP next year from 9 percent in 2011.
Greece's trade unions have staged numerous strikes and
demonstrations since the debt crisis forced authorities to start
taking austerity measures two years ago.
Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos told lawmakers from his
PASOK party on Tuesday he did not envisage a need for more
austerity measures for 2012 once the budget is approved but they
may be required for 2013-14.
He also reiterated that Greece's exit from the euro -
advocated by some commentators - was completely out of the
question, he but took a swipe at the monetary orthodoxy of the
European Central Bank.
"Price stability, the dogma on which the ECB's operations
are structured, is now leading to the risk of deflation,"
The ECB, backed by Germany, has resisted international calls
to print money through "quantitative easing" to ease pressure on
euro zone governments battling a big increase in their borrowing
costs as market confidence collapses.
The ECB and Berlin are also opposed to eurobonds, though
Papademos - echoing Juncker and other officials - said in
Luxembourg on Tuesday they could help tackle the crisis.