Buoyed by Juncker appointment, Samaras pushes growth agenda

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Friday seized the opportunity to emphasize the importance of growth before a European audience after the overwhelming majority of the bloc’s 28 leaders backed Jean-Claude Juncker, a former prime minister of Luxembourg who has warned of the risks of excessive austerity, to be the European Commission’s next president.

“Stability and growth are two goals that can be achieved in parallel,” said Samaras, who described Juncker as a “passionate European who can bridge differences” but also a realist politician.

The Greek premier talked with several of his EU peers on the second day of a summit in Brussels including Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who has challenged the Stability and Growth Pact which was designed to safeguard the stability of the euro. According to sources, Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Coelho warned Renzi that watering down the pact could destabilize the economies of several nations that were obliged to seek foreign rescue loans. Samaras is to meet with Renzi in Rome next month when Italy assumes the rotating EU presidency after Greece. It is thought that the two men will discuss the promotion of issues of common concern such as maritime and immigration policies.

With Greece’s six-month presidency of the European Union due to end on Monday, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy on Friday hailed Samaras and his government for doing a “great job” despite difficulties in Greece and for “a steady steering of the final months of this legislative cycle.”

Taking stock of his country’s six months at the EU’s helm, Samaras described Greece’s approach as “practical” and “result-oriented,” noting that 67 pieces of legislation were drawn up. He noted that significant steps were taken toward European banking union and on jobs and growth, referring to the Commission’s pledge to increase the capital of the European Investment Fund and support small and medium-sized businesses in member states.

As for border and migration management, Samaras described it as a “major challenge” for the whole of the EU.