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Two main parties clash over policy and slogans

A man walks past campaign posters in central Athens on Monday.

Campaigning for local authority and European Parliament elections began in earnest on Monday with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras pledging more money for underprivileged Greeks while his conservative New Democracy and leftist SYRIZA clashed on everything from economic policy to pre-election slogans.

Addressing a seminar organized by the Archbishopric of Athens on the “social aspects of European Union policies,” Samaras sought to play down the repercussions of austerity measures and cast his party as sensitive to the tribulations of struggling Greeks. “Our ultimate goal has to do with people, not faceless numbers and indicators,” he said, noting however that “the numbers must improve, if we are to avoid the worst.” Even as Greece’s primary surplus is distributed to thousands of beneficiaries, Samaras declared that up to 350 million euros in European Union structural funding would be set aside for the “underprivileged” from now until 2020.

Samaras also sought to cast New Democracy as the harbinger of change as well as stability. “No more going back, we are moving forward,” he said. In the same vein, the premier has made frequent references over the past few months to the need to create a “new Greece” amid rumors that the conservative party was considering adopting this moniker.

SYRIZA and its leader Alexis Tsipras – who on Monday was on an official visit to Moscow – have increasingly used the same slogan, however, prompting ND to accuse the leftists of trying to steal its political message. The row culminated with SYRIZA registering the domain name for “Nea Ellada” (New Greece).

SYRIZA and ND also clashed on Monday on issues of policy following comments by leftist Euro MP candidate Manolis Glezos suggesting that SYRIZA would seize bank deposits in excess of 100,000 euros if it came to power. Responding to criticism by ND, SYRIZA said Glezos’s comments had been distorted and SYRIZA had no such intentions.

There was also upheaval for PASOK but from an unexpected source as an article in the Financial Times claimed that European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso got the backing of Samaras and Evangelos Venizelos in November 2011 to block former Socialist Premier George Papandreou’s proposal for a referendum on Greece’s euro membership. In a statement PASOK, now led by Venizelos, rebuffed the suggestion that the pressure on Papandreou was what led to the collapse of his government.

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