Aid bagged, PM shifts focus to growth

Samaras heralds initiative to boost investment, jobs after impromptu talks with EU commissioner Almunia

With evident relief at having secured the approval of international creditors for some 50 billion euros in rescue funding, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Friday heralded an initiative to boost much-needed growth in Greece’s moribund economy following impromptu talks in Brussels with Development Minister Costis Hatzidakis and European Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia.

The meeting was held on the sidelines of the European Council summit in the Belgian capital after Samaras invited Hatzidakis to join him and the commissioner for talks on Greece’s ambitious privatization program and its plans to increase use of EU structural funding. Addressing reporters after the talks, Samaras said he would invite representatives of all multinational companies doing business in Greece for talks at the Maximos Mansion on Monday in a bid to convince them to increase their presence in the country and help boost employment.

Samaras stressed the importance of “removing the stigma from doing business,” saying that otherwise “there will be no growth and instead of surging forward we will be dragged back to the point of no return.”

Though visibly relieved at the press conference, the premier emphasized the pressure that Greece is under to implement reforms that it has pledged to creditors, including a new tax bill that is not expected to be voted on in Parliament until January. “The day after has already begun, there is not a minute to relax,” he said, adding that

“we may have completed one marathon successfully but we must now start the next one.”

Representatives of Greece’s so-called troika of foreign creditors – the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund – are expected to be particularly strict in inspections over the coming weeks and months and the government is keen not to let them down and put further rescue loans in jeopardy.

But sources told Kathimerini that Samaras and his advisers are also concerned about the social impact of a new raft of austerity measures and are keen to strike a balance between imposing the reforms demanded by creditors and ensuring that Greeks can justifiably feel some optimism at the country’s prospects for emerging from a protracted period of austerity. The disbursement of rescue loans, expected as early next week, will make a palpable difference, the premier said. “I believe the release of the installment will influence the lives of all of us,” he said. “It will reverse the decline, it will change the psychology.”

Sources told Kathimerini that Samaras and Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras were very warmly received in Brussels by their EU counterparts, in contrast to previous visits, when the Greek delegation had faced a cool reception from skeptical peers.

Samaras expressed optimism that a decision by EU leaders to work toward forming a banking union could help Greece reduce its debt by another 50 billion euros in the future. He indicated that the creation of a single supervisory mechanism (SSM) for European banks would bring Greece a step closer to passing the cost of recapitalizing its lenders to the recently created European Stability Mechanism and not recording it as national debt. “If this happens, this would allow banks to be recapitalized directly from the ESM, which means it won’t burden the taxpayer,” Samaras said. “Greece is very interested in this as it would mean our 50 billion euros in recapitalization costs would not be recorded as national debt,” he added.

Returning to domestic issues, the prime minister insisted that his government would not back down in its efforts to tackle unfair privileges in the public sector. When questioned about comments by the head of the municipal workers’ union, Themis Balasopoulos, with regard to angry local authority workers “terrorizing” the government, Samaras replied, “We will terrorize the terrorists.”