PM seeks to avert new round of austerity

As the political opposition scales up its anti-austerity rhetoric ahead of the scheduled return to Athens next month of troika inspectors, government officials are said to be working on a strategy to ensure that Greece is not obliged to impose additional painful measures amid fears that such a move could prompt early elections.

The troika’s “technical teams” are due in Athens on September 16 with the mission chiefs expected on September 22, the date of crucial elections in Germany, the outcome of which is expected to set the tone for the Greek government’s negotiations with its lenders.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has reportedly told his key ministers, chiefly Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras who will be leading negotiations with the troika, that he is categorically opposed to the prospect of new austerity measures for the period 2015 to 2016. Following a barrage of tax hikes and cutbacks in the civil service, there are fears that extra measures would shake the government’s fragile cohesion and trigger elections, most likely around May when Greek municipal elections and European parliamentary elections are planned.

The government’s aim is to post a primary surplus later this year which would allow it to return to international bond markets in 2014 with the aim of raising some 3 to 4 billion euros. This sum, together with leftover funds from the recapitalization of the country’s banks and a greater proportion of European Union funding in subsidies might allow Greece to cover a funding gap for 2014 and 2015 estimated at some 10 billion euros. If the government succeeds in covering this gap, Samaras can approach elections with a slogan along the lines of “no new memorandum, no more austerity,” giving him an edge over the main leftist opposition SYRIZA, which has been accusing the government of planning a new austerity onslaught in the fall.

SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras on Saturday accused the government of failing to “heed the needs of the Greek people and to defend the country’s interests,” and called for elections. “The country needs a SYRIZA government without delay,” he said. Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou hit back, accusing Tsipras of lacking alternative proposals to the government’s economic program. “SYRIZA is cursing to cover its political nakedness,” he said.