Samaras says Greeks will stay the course despite suffering unprecedented hardships
The three-party Greek coalition says it will deliver on its commitments, writes STEPHEN COLLINS
Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras has pledged his country will stay in the euro zone despite the fact that it will suffer more in the process than any European country has endured in peacetime.
Speaking to a group of foreign journalists at the prime minister’s office in Athens ahead of today’s release of EU-IMF bailout funds for Greece, Mr Samaras said his Government had demonstrated the credibility necessary to put an end to speculation that it might leave the euro.
He said Greece had gone through thick and thin over the past few years but insisted that his three-party coalition had now provided stability.
“Our decision was to stay in Europe and to stay in the euro zone, and to prove to the whole world we can do it.”
He said Greece had to abide by the deal it had signed up to with its EU partners and to deliver the promised savings and reforms. Already 72 of the pledged reforms had been implemented in law.
“Credibility is very important. That is why people help us. We could not have engaged in anything different and stayed on the European course,” he said.
The prime minister said his New Democracy Party was pro-European and could not have done anything else, but he added that the measures required to stay in the euro zone like cuts in pensions and pay were painful and difficult for the Greek people.
Mr Samaras said that as well as spending adjustments structural reform of the tax system and the entire system of governance were necessary and would be implemented.
“From the end of 2009 to the end of 2013, we are going to lose a quarter of gross domestic product (GDP).
“That has never happened in peacetime in any European country.”
Mr Samaras said that as difficult as the measures being taken by his government were, Greece would not only have to stick with what it was doing but to do it fast.
He added that the release of today’s huge tranche of EU-IMF funds marked a new day for his country.
He said the funds would be spent in four ways.
The first would involve the recapitalisation of the country’s banks, while the second would enable the government to pay out over €9 billion it owed to Greek people and businesses. “This will help in terms of justice, psychology and liquidity,” he said.
Mr Samaras said the third important aspect of the transfers was that it would enable Greece to draw down EU structural funds, while the fourth would be to put an end to drachmaphobia.
‘ Held us hostage’
“This is something that has held us hostage for a long time. Will Greece stay in the euro or go? This story is finished and that will have a spillover effect on the economy and psychology.”
Mr Samaras said there would be opportunities for Greece in tourism and agriculture exports, and that would required both foreign and Greek investment.
“In the past there was a lot of red tape. Today we want to offer the red carpet treatment for investors. This is a pro-business economy.”
The prime minister said the trauma of what had happened in Greece had been very great, but it was important to protect social cohesion.
“Without it democracy doesn’t work and the economy doesn’t work.”
Mr Samaras praised his country’s EU partners and singled out Taoiseach Enda Kenny, whom he described as “a very impressive man”.
The leader of the second party in the Greek coalition government, Evangelos Venizelos of Pasok, delivered a similar message , saying the three-party coalition would last and would deliver on its commitments.
However, he accepted that the social situation was very difficult, with the official rate of unemployment at 23 per cent and youth unemployment at over 50 per cent.
He described the government’s commitment to a savings package of €14.5 billion over this year and next as the last wave of very difficult fiscal measures, and he pointed out that since the beginning of the crisis the total taken out of the economy had been €65 billion.
He described this as a “conservative neo-liberal approach”, but said Greece had not choice but to accept it.
Mr Venizelos said there was now a financial and fiscal European cold war, with a small group of powerful countries imposing their solutions on weaker countries.