Prime Minister Antonis Samaras warned on Monday that as it tries to recover from its economic crisis, Greece finds itself in a “blind spot” that could be exploited by extremists and populists as they aim to derail the country’s effort to complete its fiscal and structural adjustment.
Speaking at a discussion titled “Democracy Under Pressure” hosted by Kathimerini and the International Herald Tribune in the Stoa of Attalos in Athens’s Ancient Agora, Samaras set a time frame of six years for Greece’s economic recovery. He said that by 2019, gross domestic product and prosperity will have returned to pre-crisis levels. However, he expressed strong concern about Greece’s current situation.
“The next few months are not the most difficult [economically] but are the most sensitive politically,” he said.
Samaras’s concern is that the economic benefits of Greece’s adjustment will not be visible over the next few months, while citizens will continue to feel the effects of the austerity program. He referred to this as a “blind spot” in Greece’s consolidation.
“This provides the last chance to populism and extremism to attempt to derail all the progress we have made,” said Samaras.
Although he did not name them, the premier appeared to be mainly referring to SYRIZA with the term “populists” and Golden Dawn with the term “extremists.” His speech came just a day after SYRIZA’s Alexis Tsipras spoke at the Thessaloniki International Fair and Golden Dawn’s hijacking of a memorial service at Meligalas, a town in the Peloponnese where communist forces defeated collaborationist security battalions in 1944, leaving more than 700 people dead, including many who were executed. The town’s mayor was abused and forced off the podium by Golden Dawn MP Ilias Panayiotaros as dozens of his party’s supporters looked on.
“If you want to learn about democracy under pressure, you know where to look,” Samaras told the audience at the discussion in Athens.
“Citizens’ trust in democracy cannot be restored if the moderate forces do not triumph over the populists and if extremists are not confronted with every method available,” added the Greek prime minister.
Former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, who played a key role in bringing Greece into the European Union, also spoke briefly at the Kathimerini-IHT event, expressing sympathy for Greece’s plight.
“Democracy was a goddess born in Greece and I hope she helps the country,” he said.
Samaras is due in Brussels on Tuesday, where he is to meet with the head of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, European Parliament President Martin Schulz and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy. Samaras is expected to use his trip to the heart of the European Union as an opportunity to stress to EU leaders that apart from the economic implications, Greece cannot afford to adopt new austerity measures because of the fragile political and social situation.
Officially, Athens insists that the purpose of Samaras’s visit to Brussels is not to discuss a likely third bailout package for Greece but the six-month rotating EU presidency, which the country is due to assume in January. However, the prime minister’s meeting on Monday in Athens with Greece’s representative on the European Commission, Maria Damanaki, suggested he was being briefed on the mood in Brussels.
Samaras will also meet EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia in Brussels, with the fate of three state companies, Larco, ELVO and EAS, still undecided.
The prime minister is also planning to meet International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde when he travels to the USA again, toward the end of September.
Samaras’s meetings with high-profile figures could be set to continue after he extended an invitation on Monday to Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit Greece. The Greek premier made the offer when he met Valentina Matviyenko, the chairwoman of Russia’s Federation Council, at his office. According to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency, Matviyenko, who is Russia’s highest-ranking female politician, conveyed a personal message from Putin and referred to interest from Russian companies to invest in Greece.