Greece needs more time not money, says Samaras
by Daniel Mason
Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has repeated his call for more time to push through austerity measures, at the start of a crucial set of meetings on the country's bail-out and its future in the eurozone. Samaras will hold talks today with Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the Eurogroup of finance ministers – before meetings with French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel later in the week.
The Greek government is being pushed to show that it can deliver additional savings of €11.5bn over the next two years. Then the troika of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund will report in September on whether Greece has done enough to qualify for its next bail-out payments worth €31.5bn. Without the loans Greece faces a default and possible exit from the eurozone.
But Samaras, speaking to the German daily Bild, said Greece needed "breathing space". He is expected to raise the possibility of extending the deadline for meeting the bail-out conditions by two years at his meetings with eurozone leaders. "Let me be very explicit: we demand no additional money," Samaras told the tabloid. "We stand by our commitments. But we have to kick-start growth in order to cut the deficit. All that we want is a little breathing space to revive the economy quickly and raise state income."
The latest figures showed that the Greek economy – in its fifth year of recession – shrank by 6.2 per cent year-on-year in the second quarter of 2012 as the austerity measures already implemented continued to take their toll. Unemployment stands at more than 23 per cent. It widely acknowledged that political turmoil earlier this year – with two general elections in May and June, and lengthy negotiations before a viable coalition government was formed – delayed the country's attempts at fiscal consolidation.
However, many politicians in northern eurozone countries, particularly Germany, have continued to resist any softening of the terms of Greece's rescue package. Hollande and Merkel are set to meet in Berlin on Thursday ahead of their separate talks with Samaras. For Greek centre-right leader Samaras though, winning concessions was a central plank of his election campaign as well as a key policy holding his coalition together.
Meanwhile the Greek left-wing opposition party Syriza is reportedly unhappy that during his visit to Athens today, Eurogroup chief Juncker will not meet its leader Alexis Tsipras. Syriza MP Dimitris Papadimoulis told Skai TV that it was an "insult to democracy" and claimed European Union leaders preferred "to only talk with people it finds convenient". Syriza came second in both general elections this year but refused to join a pro-bailout coalition.
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