Samaras: “austerity is not an end in itself”

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras stressed on Friday that European Union leaders did not see austerity as “an end in itself,” adding that unemployment in Greece, especially among the country’s youth, remained the biggest challenge for his government to tackle.

“It was acknowledged by all at the summit that fiscal adjustment, the memorandum, must be combined with growth-oriented measures to ensure social cohesion,” Samaras told a press conference in Brussels on the sidelines of an EU summit.

Noting that unemployment was a problem for all southern European countries, Samaras stressed the need for measures to boost growth in those markets to create much-needed jobs. European Union subsidies should be channeled into easing this problem, he said. The Greek premier emphasized that the situation is “critical” and that pledges must be put into action.

As regards the next instalment of rescue aid from foreign creditors, Samaras said Greece was “on the right track” to secure it and that the presence of troika officials in Athens was not necessary for the disbursement to take place.

Asked whether an unpopular property tax will be extended, the premier did not answer directly but said that homeowners would pay less this year.

He was equally cautious when questioned on possible layoffs in the civil service, noting that authorities would determine how many positions in the public sector will be abolished in 2014 while adding that oath-breaking public workers will be removed from the service as “the Greek people are, unfairly, paying for them.”

Elaborating on the topics discussed at the summit, Samaras said foreign policy issues dominated as well as the role of Russia as a “stragegic partner of Europe.” “We agreed that we should maintain the broadest possible cooperation with Russia to tackle international challenges,” Samaras said. He aded that Greece, and several other EU member states, had expressed the intention of facilitating the issuing of visas to Russians in order to boost tourism and trade.

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