Samaras tells Van Rompuy that sacrifices must pay off for Greeks


THE GREEK people are “at the end of their tether” and their “sacrifices must pay off”, the country’s prime minister has told the president of the European Council.

Antonis Samaras was speaking during a press conference yesterday with Herman Van Rompuy, the latest in a series of senior European figures to visit the Greek capital.

“I have no doubt that Greece’s future is in the euro area,” Mr Van Rompuy assured the Greek conservative leader. “As long as the Greek authorities stay fully committed to these objectives and deliver results, I can assure you that the European institutions and each and every member state will remain committed.”

The extent to which the beleaguered country has met its commitments and prepared for more economic reforms will be decided by the team of troika inspectors, who also arrived in Athens yesterday.

Their report will be crucial in deciding whether Greece will receive its next tranche of bailout money. Of key interest to the troika inspectors are the contents of a new €11.7 billion austerity package and whether Mr Samaras will secure the necessary political approval for them.

Of the spending cuts targeted in this latest round of belt-tightening, €4.6 billion is earmarked from reduced pensions, €1.4 billion from health, €1.3 billion from state salaries and €1.27 billion from public administration. However, the country, which spends the most on arms per capita in Europe, will only cut €517 million from its military budget under the proposals.

Although the package has been agreed in principle by the leaders of the three government parties, Mr Samaras’s two junior partners in Pasok and the Democratic Left have expressed reservations about certain provisions, particularly those targeting small pensioners and people on disability benefits.

The coalition leaders are due to meet tomorrow to finalise the package, which Mr Samaras will then present to the troika inspectors.

One of the thorniest issues facing the Samaras government is the so-called special salaries that certain groups of civil servants enjoy – including the police, military, judiciary, state doctors, professors and Orthodox Church hierarchy. These above-average salaries were to have been cut by 12 per cent from July, one of many targets missed as a result of the political instability arising from two elections in May and June. In particular, the government, in anticipation of the widespread social unrest that the new austerity measures will fuel, is reluctant to cut police and army salaries.

Fearing the troika will insist on their inclusion in the measures, more than 4,000 police, firemen and coast guards rallied in central Athens on Thursday.

Unions have called for major anti-austerity demonstrations this weekend in the country’s second city, Thessaloniki. The protests, the first major union demonstration after the summer lull, will coincide with Thessaloniki’s international trade fair. Angry at the fall in living standards and rapid rise in unemployment, which in June reached a new record of 24.4 per cent, up 1.3 points, thousands are expected to join the protests.

Yesterday, the union representing the judiciary and prosecutors voted unanimously to abstain from all court sittings for the first week of the new law term, beginning on September 17th. Schools will also shut on September 12th as a result of a strike called by kindergarten, primary and secondary teachers.