Face time in Europe

Antonis Samaras has begun to meet with European leaders. About time. The prime minister?s interviews with German and French newspapers, his meetings with Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande and Jean-Claude Juncker may just change the climate and replace the populist shouts in Greece and in the countries that have lent us money. As long as substantial contacts take place, we can hope for a break in the vicious circle of anger and misunderstanding that has isolated Greece to such a dangerous point and led to a series of mistakes by our partners.

Up to the formation of a coalition government last June, Samaras had been isolated from his counterparts in other European conservative parties, having enraged them with his rejection of the economic revival program signed in 2010 by the government of George Papandreou, the EU and the International Monetary Fund. The deep recession seems to justify the protests of Samaras and the tight little group of aides around him, but, on the other hand, they bear some responsibility for this: If New Democracy had supported the program then, this would have given it greater credibility in the eyes of the Greeks and it would have made Greece appear more credible in the eyes of our creditors. As it was, with almost all of the political system against him, Papandreou acted in fits and starts, implementing only harsh austerity without introducing reforms to the economy and public sector that would have made the people?s sacrifices bear fruit.

Now we are at yet another moment of truth. The government is obliged to take tough new austerity measures so that our partners will release the next tranche of our loan and Samaras has to deal with popular discontent, the unceasing attacks of opposition parties and the declarations of foreign politicians and economists who undermine the whole effort by calling for Greece?s exit from the eurozone. The prime minister will succeed only if he has his coalition partners by his side, if voters are persuaded that their struggle is not in vain, and if our foreign partners agree to give Greece some breathing space.

Greek politicians must speak continually with their foreign counterparts rather than leaving the debate to populist media. Greece will be saved only if Europe changes policy and offers support to member states that find it difficult to borrow in the markets. To remain in the debate, we have to know what we want, to have convincing arguments and to know what our partners want to hear (that we will fulfill our obligations, that they will get their money back etc). Only intensive, personal contacts can achieve all this.