PM shifts focus back to reforms, tactics

Buoyed by an official visit to the US that yielded a firm expression of support from President Barack Obama and potential investors, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is to shift his attention back to domestic concerns this week with talks expected to focus on a reassessment of the government’s stance vis-a-vis the country’s international creditors ahead of the scheduled return to Athens of troika inspectors next month.

Samaras is expected to urge ministers not to abandon the implementation of structural reforms over the summer period and is to meet with his coalition partner, PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos, for a discussion about “the lines of defense” Greek government officials will draw in their next meeting with troika inspectors, sources said.

Government sources have welcomed Obama’s expression of support for Greece’s economic reform effort, and his warning against the use of austerity in the absence of growth-oriented measures, as an indication of Washington’s readiness to seek to dissuade eurozone leaders – particularly in Germany – from imposing new painful cuts in Greece.

High-level envoys representing the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund are not expected in Athens until late next month but technical staff will be here in early September to launch a new audit. Samaras is keen that his ministers have some evidence of progress to show by then so that Athens is not in a weak bargaining position as was the case in June when foot-dragging with a civil service overhaul forced the premier to pull the plug on state broadcaster ERT, laying off some 2,700 public sector workers.

The basis for talks with the troika mission chiefs will largely be determined by the outcome of the German general elections, due on September 22. Nevertheless, it is expected that the troika will raise certain thorny issues that could test the cohesion of the coalition once again. It is thought, for instance, that foreign envoys will push for a further extension of a property tax which was introduced in 2011 as an emergency levy but has been protracted. They are also likely to seek the lifting of a moratorium on the auctioning of repossessed homes, a subject broached by Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras at the end of last week.