NEWS

Gov’t focus shifts to reforms after Chinese visit

After securing commitments from visiting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang for a boost in much-needed trade and investments, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is expected next week to shift his attention to the domestic political arena, pressing his cabinet to push through pending commitments to the troika.

Li wrapped up a three-day visit to Greece on Saturday with a visit to Crete following the signing of 19 bilateral deals worth an estimated 6.5 billion euros. The Chinese are interested in a new international airport near the Cretan port of Iraklio along with a series of other Greek state assets up for privatization as part of a troika-mandated reform drive.

Samaras, who accompanied Li on a tour of the island’s archaeological sites, indicated in comments to reporters that the Chinese premier’s visit to the island would spark positive developments. “The benefits for Crete will be very big and you will see them in the near future,” he said, anticipating an influx of Chinese tourists. Overall increased cooperation between the two countries in a range of sectors “will contribute to growth in Greece,” Samaras said at the end of a visit widely interpreted as a success by government officials following the interest expressed by Chinese visitors in Greece’s privatization program.

The troika-mandated sell-off program has consistently missed revenue targets but Greece has even more pressing commitments to honor. A list of so-called prior actions – including the abolition of third-party levies, a reduction in pharmacies’ profit margins and the introduction of a new ethics code for ministers and MPs – must be enforced by the end of next month if the country is to secure two tranches of rescue loans worth 2 billion euros. Authorities are also keen to prove to international creditors that a reform drive is on track as this is a condition for the launch of crucial talks in the fall on lightening Greece’s debt burden. The International Monetary Fund expressed concern in its latest report on Greece about “adjustment fatigue” in the government and concerns about the pace of reforms were expressed by officials at a eurozone summit in Luxembourg last week despite reassurances by Greece’s new Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis that commitments would be honored.

Samaras and his coalition partner, PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos, are keen to prove the critics wrong. But, with many ministers in the new cabinet openly challenging measures agreed between their predecessors and the troika, the coalition leaders have their work cut out for them.

New Education Minister Andreas Loverdos has called for the rehiring of a larger number of public sector workers who have been put in a so-called mobility scheme. Interior Minister Argyris Dinopoulos has expressed understanding for local authority employees protesting the scheme and Health Minister Makis Voridis has called for a minimum guaranteed profit for pharmacists. Meanwhile Alternate Agriculture Minister Paris Koukoulopoulos has suggested that the part-privatization of the Public Power Corporation (PPC) can be renegotiated.

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