ATHENS – Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who during the campaign before the June 17 elections said he would seek renegotiations of bailout deals with international lenders – but after being elected said he wouldn’t – then said he would, now says he won’t.
Samaras told Members of Parliament of his New Democracy Conservative party that his coalition government has no intention of asking the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) Troika to make changes to the austerity measures they have demanded, along with another $15 billion in cuts.
Samaras has a majority in the 300-member Parliament only because his rivals, the PASOK Socialists of Evangelos Venizelos and the Democratic Left of Fotis Kouvelis, have given him their votes. They had pressured him into saying he would seek renegotiations, but now Samaras has changed his mind again and said Greece has to wait until it shows it’s serious about making structural reforms and following the Troika’s orders.
The newspaper Kathimerini said that he told his members that Greece would have nothing to gain by trying to convince its lenders at the moment to change the loan agreement. “We will not aim for a renegotiation from a position of greater weakness and exasperation,” he said. Samaras at first opposed the pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions demanded by the Troika, then supported them, then opposed them and now has an uncertain position.
His waffling has drawn criticism from his chief rival and the second-place finisher in the elections, Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) leader Alexis Tsipras, who accused the Prime Minister of constantly changing his position and caving in to the Troika. Earlier this week, Tsipras urged the government to reject the austerity measures that have worsened a five-year-long recession and put 1.1 million people out of work and shrunk the economy by 6.7 percent. He said continued pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions would “write the last chapter” in Greece’s memorandum of understanding with the Troika.
He referred to news reports that the IMF was ready to pull the plug on its contributions to Greece, which would put the country into default as early as September, before the next loan installment of 31 billion euros ($37.6 billion) would be disbursed to the country. He also attacked Samaras’ decision to send riot police to break up a strike at the Halyvourgia steel plant outside western Athens.
Samaras said he did it so that non-striking workers could enter and told his MP’s that the government would defend their “right to work.” He also pledged to cut the unemployment rate from 22.5 to 12.5 percent within four years, although few Greeks expect his administration to last that long. He offered no specifics on how he would put half a million people back to work at a time when 1,000 businesses a week are closing.
Venizelos, who as Finance Minister in a previous shaky hybrid government between his party and New Democracy doubled income and property taxes and taxed the poor, called SYRIZA an “irresponsible” opposition party. SYRIZA spokesman Panos Skourletis accused the government of conceding ground to the troika and allowing Greece’s lenders to “blackmail” the coalition over new austerity measures.