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Samaras sets out New Democracy's economic agenda

Greece's conservative New Democracy party leader Antonis Samaras gestures as he gives a pre-election speech at the Zapeion Hall in Athens on Sunday.

New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras set out his party’s economic program for the May 6 elections on Sunday, promising lower taxes, less bureaucracy and more support for some sectors of the economy.

“Our aim is to change everything, both the system of governance and the economic model,” he told an audience of party members at Zappeio Hall in Athens.

Samaras set out two broad themes, which were putting right injustices caused by the measures taken since 2010 and creating a basis for growth.

The ND leader said that he would boost low pensions and bring back benefits for large families and farmers. He said this would cost about 550 million euros a year and that this money could be obtained by increasing the tax on electronic games operated by state-run gambling firm OPAP and reducing the deficits of public enterprises, known as DEKOs.

Samaras suggested that a similar approach could be taken to some 11 billion euros of savings for 2013 and 2014 that the troika is demanding. He said this money could come from cutting back waste in the public sector.

He added that loss-making public companies should be sold to investors. “Whatever can be privatized will be privatized,” he said, giving the example of the Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE). Samaras insisted that there are plenty of foreign buyers interested in Greek public assets.

Samaras also set out plans to protect homeowners. He proposed that monthly mortgage repayments should not amount to more than 30 percent of a person’s income and that if borrowers were suffering serious financial problems, they should be allowed to pay just the interest on their loan for a maximum of three years.

The ND leader said that retail bondholders who invested their savings in Greek bonds swapped as part of the debt restructuring process should be given investment incentives to cushion the blow of the haircut.

Samaras insisted that he would not accept the scrapping of the 13th and 14th monthly salaries that some Greeks in the public and private sector receive.

In terms of growth, the ND chief advocated the introduction of a 15 percent flat tax for businesses and a tax amnesty for Greeks who want to return their savings from abroad. He also called for value-added tax to be reduced so the new brackets are 19, 9 and 5 percent and proposed tax breaks for foreigners who want to settle in Greece. Samaras added that he would not introduce new levies and would tell Greece’s lenders that “there is no more money for taxes.”

He advocated the release of more funds for small businesses once the recapitalization of the Greek banks has been completed and said he would push for some 6.5 billion euros owed by the Greek state to firms to be paid as soon as possible.

Samaras also suggested that private firms could be given concessions to run parts of Greece’s infrastructure. He cited Larnaca Airport in Cyprus, which is run by a Chinese firm, as an example.

He pledged to cut down on bureaucracy, with the first step being limiting the number of ministries to just 10.

The conservative chief said that within a month and a half of coming to power, he would draw up policies to support certain economic activities with the aim of achieving growth. These would include developing marinas, shipbuilding, exports for primary products such as olive oil, tourism, producing energy from household waste, better management of water resources and changing the country’s energy mix.

A poll for Kathimerini indicated on Friday that New Democracy’s support stands at 21.5 percent, well short of the minimum of around 36 percent that would be needed for an outright majority.

Nevertheless, Samaras insisted that his party’s agenda could not be executed if it formed a coalition government with PASOK.

“I am asking for a clear mandate so we can embrace all Greeks,” said Samaras. “I want to be able to set free all the [productive] forces and to have the political power to make a giant leap forward. I want your vote to express political stability not exasperation.”

Samaras is due to return to Zappeio Hall on Thursday to set out his agenda for institutional reforms and changes to Greece’s immigration policies.

ekathimerini.com , Sunday April 22, 2012 (22:16)  
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