BRUSSELS - Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said that the Eurogroup’s decision on Thursday to release some 50 billion euros in loans over the next few months would give Greece the chance to “exit the crisis stronger, not on its knees.”
Speaking at a news conference in Brussels ahead of a European Union leaders' summit, Samaras said the disbursement of the money would allow the government to pay over the next few months all of the arrears it had built up with citizens and suppliers, which stand at about 9 billion euros.
“Over the next few months, we’ll get 52.5 billion euros, which is something nobody had expected,” he said. “About 40 billion of this will stay in the country and the rest is being used to reduce our debt.”
Earlier, eurozone finance ministers agreed to release 49.1 billion euros of loans for Greece. Of this, 34.3 billion euros would be disbursed immediately, possibly by next week, while another 14.8 billion euros would be transferred to Athens in tranches during the first quarter of next year as long as reform “milestones” are met.
It was also clarified by European Financial Stability Fund chief Klaus Regling earlier on Thursday that the 11.3 billion euros Greece will receive in loans in order to execute its bond buyback program will come from the 109 billion euros entailed in its second bailout rather than from additional lending.
The completion of Greece’s bond buyback program this week means that the International Monetary Fund is also due to approve its payment as part of the Greek program. This is worth 3.4 billion euros, taking the total to the 52.5 billion Samaras referred to.
From next week’s disbursement, 16 billion euros will go toward bank recapitalization, 7 billion for budgetary financing and 11.3 billion to finance Greece's bond buyback program.
“Within the next few weeks, we’ll complete the recapitalization of our banks, which will help liquidity and boost job creation, which is the top priority,” said Samaras.
“Some people expected us to be out of the euro and cannot believe that we are staying in,” added the prime minister. “We have restored trust in Greece abroad; now we will restore the dignity of the Greek people.”
Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, also at the news conference, said that the Eurogroup’s decision on Thursday would douse, but not end, speculation about Greece leaving the euro.
“The threat of a euro exit is beginning to fade after today’s decision,” he said, adding that there was still much work for the government to do.
“Those who believed in Greece have been justified but we cannot rest,” said Stournaras. “The journey begins today.”
He emphasized that Greece would have to meet its commitments on structural reforms, starting with the new tax bill, which Stournaras said would be table in Parliament on Thursday evening.
He said fellow eurozone finance ministers showed a keen interest in the draft law, particularly in terms of what measures Greece will take to boost revenues and cut down tax evasion.
Questioned about legislation to trim parliamentary employees’ wages and privileges, Samaras said that his government was determined to push through with the measure despite opposition from the civil servants.
“The government and I will not accept blackmail,” he said.