Samaras aims for debt relief in April but not national elections in May

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras aims to lead his government into May’s local and European Parliament elections with a decision from Greece’s lenders on further debt relief and with no intention of calling early national elections.

In an interview with Sunday’s Kathimerini, Samaras made it clear that Athens believes its eurozone partners will keep to their word and come up with a new debt relief package in April, when the European Commission’s statistical agency, Eurostat, is due to confirm whether Greece achieved a primary budget surplus in 2013.

Samaras said Athens would “insist” that a decision on further debt relief is taken in the spring rather than being delayed until after May’s European elections. “What method is chosen to lighten our debt load can be chosen immediately afterward. But this outstanding issue has to be resolved in the spring. I believe our partners accept this.”

The Greek prime minister insisted, however, that he would not sign a third bailout agreement in order to secure a new debt reduction.

“Memorandums are only signed when an agreement begins or is reviewed because it was not implemented previously,” he told Kathimerini’s executive editor Alexis Papachelas.

“In our case, we have fully complied with the second agreement. We are meeting the program targets and implementing the prior actions at every step. The additional help is foreseen in the agreement we already have so there is no need to sign a new one.”

Samaras said that a third bailout would not be in the interests of Greece or its lenders.

“We don’t want a new agreement because it will mean new conditions and our lenders don’t want one because it will need to go through their national parliaments again, which is not an easy thing.”

Despite mounting speculation that general elections might be added to the local and European Parliament polls due to take place on May 18 and 25, Samaras ruled out a snap national vote and said the coalition aims to see out its full four-year term.

“The first signs of the exit from the crisis will begin to show in the first six months of 2014. Why should we rush to hold elections when just the first signs will be showing? Why shouldn’t we hold them at the normal time, when the country has exited the crisis, in 2016?”

Samaras said he was confident that his government, despite being down to 154 MPs, would not have problems surviving until 2016. Without referring to the 12 independent lawmakers in Parliament or the deputies from former coalition partner Democratic Left in particular, he said that the government would be able to count on the support of others if needed.

“We are trying to move away as quickly as possible from the verge of disaster, not to allow others to take us back there,” said the premier. “This is not something that just we in the government see, others realize it too.”

Samaras also played down SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras’s ability to bring down the government. “The problem Mr Tsipras has is that for him to come closer to governing, he has to turn his back on populism and become more responsible,” said the prime minister. “If he tried to do that, though, he’d lose his party, which is the epitome of populism and irresponsibility.”

The New Democracy leader also dismissed rumors about the possibility of a new government being formed without elections being held, which would suggest that he would be replaced at the helm of the conservative party.

“I am not going to bother with people who, possibly, move in the darkness,” he said. “People can see them and understand what is going on and will respond in the appropriate way, if need be.”

Samaras revealed that he recently met with his predecessor as New Democracy leader, former Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who is reportedly considering a political comeback in the future. “Our relationship is excellent, as always,” he said. “We met a few days ago and discussed things as old friends. I don’t think anything can change that.”

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