NEWS

Spanish PM backs Samaras, stresses risk of anti-austerity sirens

On a lightning visit to Athens on Wednesday, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy expressed support for his Greek counterpart Antonis Samaras and defended the tough economic program the outgoing government has been pursuing under the supervision of foreign creditors, saying the reforms were “necessary” and had “produced results,” advising Greeks to ignore “impossible” promises.

Rajoy, who like Samaras is under increasing pressure from the anti-austerity opposition, said economic reforms were “tough” but unavoidable. “These are the policies which guarantee the future,” Rajoy told a joint press conference with Samaras. Noting that he had been obliged to accept agreements made by his socialist predecessor when he assumed the Spanish premiership in 2011, Rajoy said agreed-to measures cannot simply change with every new government. The same sentiment was echoed by Samaras.

The Spanish premier, who must compete with the increasingly popular anti-austerity party Podemos in Spanish general elections in November, also made an apparent dig at SYRIZA. “To promise things that are impossible makes no sense and generates an enormous amount of frustration,” he said.

Samaras also got a boost on Wednesday from an ally closer to home with former conservative Costas Karamanlis throwing his support behind the premier and New Democracy. “More than ever before, the country needs political stability and deep reforms, a government with a clear European direction that is firmly focused on the national target of growth,” Karamanlis said.

As campaigning intensifies ahead of next week’s elections, Samaras is set to appear in several television interviews in the coming days in a bid to force home his party’s message.

Tsipras, who gave his first TV interview earlier this week, on Wednesday opted for a less traditional medium to appeal to voters. Responding to questions submitted on Twitter in a live stream, Tsipras sought to provide brief but comprehensive responses to key issues of concern. He said SYRIZA did not plan to increase taxes but was aiming to raise revenues by cracking down on tax evasion. The party’s economic program, which was unveiled in Thessaloniki last September, will be “implemented without negotiation,” Tsipras said. Asked whether his party would allow foreclosures, Tsipras responded with a slogan: “No homes in bankers’ hands.” On public health, he said significant improvements were needed and pledged to recruit more doctors and nurses. He ducked some thornier queries, avoiding taking a stance on the right of gay couples to adopt and on the relationship between the Greek state and the Orthodox Church, for instance. On immigration, Tsipras said European countries should share the responsibility for tackling the problem.

Meanwhile, as debate continues about how realistic calls by SYRIZA for a reduction of Greece’s huge debt are, Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Joan Burton said she saw some value in calls by Greece’s leftists for an international conference to renegotiate debts of Greece and some other eurozone states. “I think the proposal has merit, as Minister Noonan indicated yesterday,” Burton said, referring to reports that Finance Minister Michael Noonan had said he would not dismiss the idea.