PM puts off coalition meeting

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras spoke with his coalition partners Friday but will not meet with them upon returning to Athens on Sunday, choosing to leave face-to-face talks until after he has held his series of discussions with European leaders next week.

Sources said that Samaras spoke to PASOK?s Evangelos Venizelos and Democratic Left?s Fotis Kouvelis to discuss the government?s progress in finding all of the 11.5 billion euros in cuts demanded by the troika and preparations for the premier?s meetings with Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande.

Kathimerini understands Samaras does not want to hold talks with the other two coalition leaders before his meetings, which begin on Wednesday when Juncker will visit Athens, to avoid risking a damaging rift at this crucial stage. However, he will meet with Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras and other cabinet officials once he returns from his vacation.

The prime minister hopes that a possible positive outcome from the talks with Merkel and Hollande, such as tacit approval for a two-year extension to Greece?s fiscal adjustment period, will make it easier for the coalition to move forward with the spending cuts and for Venizelos and Kouvelis to face down any dissent within their parties.

There was encouragement for Samaras Friday when a report by Bloomberg suggested that Merkel is considering relaxing Greece?s bailout terms. Two MPs, Klaus-Peter Willsch and Frank Schaeffler, suggested that Merkel?s government is testing the water in Germany to see if such a move would be politically acceptable.

?The sensitivities among many more than just the 27 coalition members who voted ?no? last time are well known? to Merkel, ?so the official line is to stay tough? on Greece, said Willsch, a member of Merkel?s Christian Democratic Union party. ?But at the same time, some are being sent forward to test the waters on how this tough line can be abandoned.?

?We?re seeing the softening already in the case of Spain, which was given a ?bailout deluxe? rather than a full-fledged program,? said Schaeffler of the Free Democratic Party. ?And since Spain will need more money, that program will also be softer than that of the others.?

The Financial Times Deutschland, however, suggested that Merkel would take a tough line with Samaras when he visits Berlin on Friday, arguing that the German chancellor will have one eye on next year?s federal elections.