ATHENS – Greece’s interim Prime Minister Lucas Papademos says he gave up his salary as soon as he was appointed three months ago – President Karolos Papoulias did so earlier this month, relinquishing his annual $400,000 pay. Papademos made the revelation following a meeting in Brussels with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, where both rejected the idea floated by Eurozone chief Jean-Claude Juncker for the European Union to appoint an overseer for Greece’s finances and check how rescue loans are being spent.
Papoulias said he no longer wanted to be paid as part of a “symbolic act of solidarity” with Greeks whose pay has been cut, taxes hiked, pensions slashed and will be fired by the scores of thousands of part of conditions imposed by the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) to get a second bailout of $170 billion. Greece is surviving on a first bailout of $152 billon.
With mistrust running high about Greece – German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble earlier recommended an EU budget czar to watch over the country’s finances – Juncker said he wanted a kind of “reconstruction commissioner” to help rebuild the country, but this was taken in Greece to mean a bailout watchdog chief. Papademos, a former ECB Vice-President, said, “The new economic program for Greece will be implemented by the Greek government and the Greek authorities,” adding that Athens “welcomes the support by the European Commission, the commissioners and the Commission’s services – and I think this is sufficient.”
He was meeting with Barroso and EU leaders to discuss Greece’s still sluggish economy after reports it would shrink 4.4 percent this year despite the bailouts as many analysts said continued austerity measures would deepen a recession in its fifth year, which has brought near 21 percent unemployment – 48 percent for those under 25 – and shuttered more than 111,000 businesses. The second bailout requires Greece to cut the minimum wage up to 32 percent, fire 150,000 workers over the next three years, and cut $4.4 billion more this year, which means slashing pay again as well as pensions, pharmaceuticals and even the once sacred cow of defense. Without the new deal, Greece would have been unable to meet an $18.2 billion loan payment on March 20 nor pay its workers and pensioners. Labor unions have protested and transport shut down for 24 hours on March 1.
Barroso said he thought the first bailout round came with austerity measures that were too tough and that Greece needs to make more use of EU structural funds that have sat dormant. He said that the Greek crisis is a “priority for the commission; not only for one commissioner.” The “crucial part” of implementing reforms is in the hands of the Greek authorities, he said. “It is an illusion to think that someone outside Greece is going to solve the problems of Greece,” Barroso said.
(Sources: Kathimerini, Bloomberg)