NEWS

Samaras says he’d join alliance to keep Greece in euro

As Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras struggles to secure a financial bailout to stay in the euro zone, his chief rival said he’s open to offering a political rescue.

Opposition leader Antonis Samaras, who was ousted by Tsipras in January elections, signaled his willingness to join a unity government if the concessions required to win emergency loans drive a wedge through the ruling anti-austerity coalition.

“If the plan is to keep Greece in the euro area, we will provide support,” Samaras, 63, said in an interview in Athens, Wednesday. “Exit would signal a total catastrophe.”

While Samaras questioned Tsipras’s commitment to keeping the single currency, he said it’s the only conceivable economic path for Greece.

“For the euro area, the spillover effect from Greece leaving the euro is not going to be today as big as it would have been four years ago,” Samaras said from his New Democracy party’s headquarters in Athens, bullet holes still visible in the walls and windows after an attack by opponents of his austerity policies armed with Kalashnikovs in 2013. “But it’s still going to be huge, and it’s going to be a political disaster.”

With cash running out and a renewed recession looming, Greece’s anti-austerity government is prolonging talks with euro-area officials to try to extract better conditions for the bailout. The negotiations mark the latest chapter in a six-year struggle during which gross domestic product shrank by about a quarter.

‘Lies, No Action’

“The market is asphyxiating in uncertainty,” Samaras said. His advice to Tsipras: “Cut the histrionics, the bill is going up.”

Tsipras has said on several occasions that he wants to strike an “honorable compromise” with euro-area creditors that would pave the way for the disbursement of emergency loans and avert a default that could push Greece out of the currency bloc.

“I see a lot of words, a lot of theory, a lot of lies, and no action,” Samaras said. “All of these add up to a big question mark.” The government should honor the list of commitments agreed in February’s deal to extend the bailout, he said.

Financial Aid

“If they ideologically decide they won’t abide by this agreement, then you may have a default,” Samaras said.

Tsipras, 40, campaigned on reversing the commitments predecessors, including Samaras, made to secure aid pledges of 240 billion euros ($258 billion). Promising to end spending cuts, pension freezes, and state asset sales has left him in a bind now that he needs to persuade the rest of Europe to keep financial aid flowing.

“Euro-area countries which have lower GDP per capita than Greece, countries which have elections and countries which have themselves gone through a program won’t give us any more money if they see that the government is not abiding by its commitments and it’s behaving in an anti-European manner,” Samaras said.

The Harvard-educated economist dismissed criticism he’s not supporting the government in its bid to avert an economic and social implosion, pointing out that his party supported both bills Tsipras brought to parliament so far.

Samaras said it’s Tsipras who is undermining the country’s credibility by making overtures to Russia. Tsipras will meet President Vladimir Putin in Moscow next week.

“When you are in Europe and ask Chinese, Iranians, Russians to finance your deficit, don’t you send a signal to the rest of Europe that you are not really a serious pro-European?”

[Bloomberg]