Greek PM rules out new pension, salary cuts, as troika heads to Athens

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Monday ruled out the possibility of new across-the-board reductions being imposed on salaries and pensions in order to meet targets set by Greece’s creditors, just hours before the arrival in Athens of inspectors from the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund – collectively known as the troika.

Speaking on private Mega channel late on Monday in the first television interview he has granted since becoming prime minister in the summer of 2012, Samaras expressed his frustration with the country’s international lenders over the size of an expected fiscal gap next year, which the troika has said will be much larger than Athens anticipates.

“The troika had told us that it did not expect any fiscal issues in 2014… Now it is suddenly telling us that there are, while the economy is only doing better,” Samaras told Mega channel. He added that there is no real conflict with the troika, saying that “if something additional is necessary we will look at structural reforms that do not directly affect pensions and salaries.”

The prime minister was reluctant to respond to questions regarding whether Greece and its creditors will have to set new targets in order to ensure the sustainability of the country’s debt, saying that he would rather wait for the primary surplus to be confirmed in April. He did say, however, that he plans to propose that the primary budget surplus goal of 1.5 percent of GDP for 2014 be reduced to 0.8 percent of GDP to provide the austerity-weary country with some much-needed leeway.

Samaras insisted that a funding gap foreseen for next year and 2015 – the size of which Athens and its creditors are also at odds – should be addressed by the troika and “should not be accompanied by pressure for another memorandum,” he said referring to the two bailout deals Athens has signed agreeing to strict terms in exchange for rescue funding.

The head of the two-party governing coalition also defended Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, who has come under fire recently by MPs from both junior partner PASOK and New Democracy over a planned overhaul of the tax code, saying that “he has helped greatly in turning the ship around.”

“Sometimes he says thing in a much tougher tone than they are accustomed to hearing,” Samaras said of MPs’ reactions to Stournaras.

On the issue of leftist opposition SYRIZA, Samaras said that its leader, Alexis Tsipras, “is in a battle so we don’t exit the crisis.”

He said that Tsipras “is a threat to investors” and is “defending the privileges” of unions ahead of European Parliamentary elections in May.

The prime minister also ruled out the possibility of early general elections in Greece, saying that “people must finally realize that in a stable country we have to abide by the reasoning of the four-year term.” He added that “those who do not agree are those who do not want to see the country on a solid footing when elections do come.”

Samaras called on all Greeks to unite in their condemnation of violence in the wake of the murder on Friday of two members of far-right Golden Dawn outside party offices in the northern Athenian suburb of Neo Iraklio, and the serious wounding of a third man. He stressed that the government will be “ruthless” toward the perpetrators of the attack when they are found.

The conservative prime minister, moreover, added that he believes Golden Dawn’s popularity will continue to wane following a crackdown on the party, which is being investigated for alleged criminal activities as its leader and several leading cadres are held in pretrial custody.

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