Juncker briefed on troika talks before assuming EC presidency

Jean-Claude Juncker, who is due to take over as president of the European Commission on November 1, was back in Athens for the second time in a month on Friday as the Greek government sought to drive home its positions on the ongoing troika negotiations and plans for an early bailout exit with European decision makers.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is hoping that Athens will be able to count on Juncker’s support as the discussion begins within the eurozone regarding whether Greece will be able to leave its adjustment program at the end of this year or whether it will need a third bailout. The Greek leader is also hoping for Juncker’s understanding on issues relating to the current troika review, such as a new round of pension reform, which the coalition would prefer to avoid.

“He has to know what the main issues in Greece are and what our positions are on a range of issues,” said a high-ranking government official who preferred to remain anonymous. “He is not responsible for the review but he is a key player,” added the official, saying Juncker indicated that tackling the Greek issue would be one of his priorities when he starts his new job.

The future Commission chief had a working lunch with Samaras before the two men held further talks in which Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos, Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis and Samaras’s adviser Stavros Papastavrou took part.

The Greek government believes that at a time when France and Italy have begun questioning economic policy within the single currency area, Juncker could prove a useful ally who will be broadly aligned with Greece’s position.

Samaras will be in Brussels next week for the European Union leaders’ summit and is certain to try to push Greece’s case while he is there. He will return in time for the vote of confidence in the government, due to take place late on Friday.

Tension has already begun building in Parliament ahead of the ballot. Yesterday, Labor Minister Yiannis Vroutsis claimed a SYRIZA government would not be able to pay pensions, while leftist MP Alexis Mitropoulos said that if his party came to power it would order a parliamentary investigation into the pension system.

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