PM calls for balance in austerity drive

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Monday stressed the need for Greece to harness untapped potential and increase its competitiveness to emerge from the current debt crisis but said it was equally important to safeguard social cohesion and quash a rise in extremism.

In a speech at an investment forum in Athens organized by the International Herald Tribune, Samaras said Greeks were inherently capable of great things. ?Wherever Greeks go, they stand out. It?s only in their country that they wither. And this has to change,? he said.

Samaras highlighted five key challenges for Greece, starting with the need for the country to exploit its untapped potential — ?in natural resources, mineral wealth, human capital? — and culminating in the need to crack down on ?whatever fuels extremism? and to protect social cohesion. ?For a society to stand on its own feet, it must maintain its cohesion,? he said. ?No plan for rebooting an economy can be successful if a society is destroyed.?

PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos, who addressed the same conference earlier in the day, took a more obvious dig at the troika, saying his party was not open to the radical changes in labor laws being proposed by the troika — including a reduction to the severance pay given to dismissed workers in the private sector. Venizelos described the troika?s insistence on this topic as ?a fixation that does not take account of problems with competitiveness.? He also emphasized the importance of respecting EU labor law. ?Greece is not a Third World country,? he said.

Speaking in the keynote speech that opened the forum, policy adviser Simon Anholt insisted that Greece did not have as severe an image problem as many Greeks believe. ?In all my years, I?ve never known a country to believe that its image has been damaged as badly as Greeks believe theirs has,? he said. ?But the only way a country can damage its image is to go out and hurt people or insult them.?

Anholt, who advises local and national governments, said it would be wrong for Greece to try to improve its image through a taxpayer-funded campaign. ?Only losers go around telling people how great they are,? he said. ?There is no evidence that throwing money after the problem works.? Instead, he said Greece should focus on overhauling institutions. ?If people like and admire a country, they?ll trade with it.?

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