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Athens visit of MEPs investigating bailouts postponed, sparking criticism from SYRIZA

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras stands aboard a fishing boat in the southern Peloponnesian town of Kalamata, from which local clerics conducted the blessing of the water ceremony during the Epiphany holiday on January 6.

A planned visit this week by MEPs who are investigating the way bailouts in Greece and other eurozone countries have been conducted by the troika was postponed on Monday, sparking an angry reaction from SYRIZA but not preventing Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras from responding in writing to the parliamentarians’ questions.

A delegation of members of the European Parliament’s Economic Affairs (ECON) committee, led by Austrian MEP Othmar Karas and French MEP Liem Hoang Ngoc, who are the rapporteurs for the inquiry into the troika’s actions, were due in Athens on Wednesday and Thursday but it was announced on Monday that the visit would be postponed following discussions between Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and European Parliament President Martin Schulz.

The MEPs’ visit, during which they were due to meet with Greek officials, would have coincided with the official ceremony marking the moment Greece assumes the European Union’s rotating presidency. SYRIZA claimed this was what prompted the postponement.

“It would have spoiled the fiestas the Greek government is preparing for the EU presidency,” said leftist MEP Nikos Chountis, who is on the ECON committee.

“The government is running scared of a discussion about the goals and effects of the [EU-IMF] memorandum,” said SYRIZA spokesman Panos Skourletis.

Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou responded by accusing the opposition party of being “obsessed with conspiracy theories and efforts to tarnish the country’s image.”

However, MEPs also expressed their concern that the visit had been put off, with no new date being set. “There is an urgent need for serious and in-depth investigations into the huge social, economic and democratic harm that has been caused in the troika program countries,” said Juergen Klute, a German MEP with Die Linke who is also part of the inquiry team. “Parliament has to prove that it is up to the task and lead the work of serious investigation.”

Members of the inquiry team have sent questionnaires to a number of officials involved in the bailouts, seeking answers about how the programs have been constructed and implemented. One of those receiving the list of questions was Finance Minister Stournaras, whose answers were made public on Monday.

Stournaras’s most notable responses highlight the social impact of the austerity measures and the limitations of the programs.

He says, for instance, that Greece’s “remarkable” fiscal and structural adjustment “has come at an extremely high socioeconomic cost.” He highlights economic contraction of 25 percent, unemployment of 27 percent and more than a third of the population at risk of poverty or social exclusion as being the key problem.

“The Greek program was launched when the Greek economy was already in recession,” he writes. “This caused additional difficulties since it is a well-known fact that difficult structural adjustments are easier to implement during economic boom.”

The minister adds: “Also, with the benefit of hindsight, the eurozone didn’t diagnose timely the causes of the crisis in Greece and across the European South, particularly the widening deficits in the current account balances.”

Stournaras also cites mistakes in putting more emphasis on raising taxes rather than cutting spending at the start of the program and failing to make immediate efforts to reform the tax administration.

“Moreover, statements of various stakeholders regarding ‘Grexit’ played a very negative role,” he concludes. “These statements aggravated significantly the Greek crisis.”

ekathimerini.com , Monday Jan 6, 2014 (21:45)  
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