Greek PM pleads with EU partners for more time to reform economy


GREEK PRIME minister Antonis Samaras has pleaded with EU partners to give Greece more time – if not more money – to enable its reform programmes stanch a “bleeding economy”.

Before heading to Berlin and Paris tomorrow, Mr Samaras was warned by euro group chief Jean-Claude Juncker that Athens was on its “last chance”.

“All we want is a little more air to breathe to get the economy going and increase government revenue,” Mr Samaras told Germany newspaper Bild yesterday. He said an extension – giving Greece two years more to hit EU-IMF targets – “doesn’t necessarily mean more money”. In another interview, Mr Samaras said the respite was essential to help Greece cope with a drastic recession.

“Our economic has shrunk by 27 per cent – Greece is bleeding, it’s really bleeding,” he said to Süddeutsche Zeitung, adding that Greece would pay back more than €100 billion in loans and guarantees.

“I promise you: we will deliver; that I guarantee personally,” he said, insisting his government would make the €11.5 billion savings required for the next aid tranche of €31 billion. He said he was not interested in re-election but in “changing the country”.

An exit of Greece from the euro would be “a catastrophe for us”, he said, forecasting at least five further years of recession, a jobless rate of more than 40 per cent and a 70 per cent drop in living standards. “At the end [Greece] would be the Weimar Republic,” he said, warning of economic consequences for Europe.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was looking forward to the “opportunity to communicate directly” with Mr Samaras on his inaugural Berlin visit tomorrow, following his election in June.

“We won’t find solutions on Friday, we will wait for the troika’s report and then take decisions,” she said.

Mr Juncker gave little ground in Athens, saying a final decision on Greece would come in October, following the latest report by EU-IMF inspectors expected in September. He supported efforts to keep Greece to remain in the euro zone, he said, and urged those calling for an exit to “keep their mouths shut”.

French president François Hollande, in Berlin today for talks with Dr Merkel, was anxious that “the integrity of the euro zone is maintained”, a spokeswoman said.

“Greece must respect its commitments,” said the spokeswoman. “At the same time, we must give it prospects for growth.”

Despite attacks on Athens from within her coalition, Dr Merkel conceded yesterday that the Greece was “not just about economic questions but about deeply political questions and the future of Europe as a whole”.