With an exhausting 2012 behind him, and after ruling for half of it, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said he believes 2013 will be the year that Greece finally begins to recover from its crushing economic crisis – with the help of more bailouts – but that it will depend on Greeks themselves to resurrect their country.
It will be a tough sell, as a new poll shows most Greeks are disenchanted with the uneasy coalition government that includes Samaras’ New Democracy Conservatives, the embattled PASOK Socialists of Evangelos Venizelos who could face a challenge to his leadership in the party’s February and the tiny Democratic Left.
In a New Year’s message broadcast around the country, Samaras said, “In 2012, we changed the country’s image abroad. In 2013, we will change Greek reality, with an emphasis on recovery and social cohesion. It’s fine getting support from others, powerful alliances are useful too but we Greeks are the ones that will save our country.”
The premier has crowed that he did more in a few months at the end of 2012 to help Greece than any government in the past 40 years, but the economy is still rocky and more pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions are coming. He said that he is going to concentrate on rebuilding the economy and competitiveness and will – finally – try to do something about tax cheats who are costing the country $70 billion. At the same time though, new pay cuts and tax hikes as part of a $17.45 billion scheme attached to the 2013-14 budget.
To boost development, Samaras is planning some foreign trips too, starting with Qatar, where business leaders are interested in developing the old Ellenikon airport site on Athens’ south coast and eying a couple of Greek defense companies as possible purchases. Promising there would be more austerity measures in 2013, Samaras has to turn to other ways to produce revenues and hold down rising social unrest, with unemployment at 26 percent – some 55 percent for those under 25.
Greece will accelerate the pace of privatizations, the sale or lease of state properties and enterprises, pushed by the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) to try to raise as much as 16 billion euros ($21.1 billion) in the next couple of years, leading critics to say the government may sell off some good enterprises on the cheap, as well as trying to get rid of money-bleeding losers, such as the national railway, which doesn’t go to other European countries.
Alex Sakellariou, a sociologist and researcher at Panteion University in Athens, told Greek Reporter it will be a hard year for Greek workers and pensioners and the poor especially. “The biggest story for Greece in 2013 will be the rise of poverty, as we have never seen it before. This is something already taking place and based on what follows -further cuts, more taxes, and higher rates of unemployment – make me express the opinion that many more people will not be able to cover their basic needs during 2013,” he said.
THE ERA OF IMPUNITY
Samaras also noted that Greeks are angry as well over the impunity that tax cheats and the country’s rich elite and some politicians have enjoyed, with rage rising over the so-called Lagarde List of some 2,000 Greeks with $1.95 billion in deposits in the Geneva, Switzerland branch of HSBC bank that hasn’t been checked for tax cheats.
Former finance minister George Papaconstantinou was ejected from the PASOK Socialists as he faced a probe into whether he removed the names of three relatives from the list. Samaras – as has every premier before him who failed to do so – said he would crack down on corruption, a political mantra that most Greeks don’t believe.
Most of his emphasis, however, was on the economy and keeping Greece in the Eurozone in the face of more pending social unrest over austerity that Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras said he feared could undermine the government.
“We said that we would avert Greece’s exit from the euro,” he said. “Few believed it but we succeeded,” Samaras said. He added:“We said that we would change the mix of economic policy so the economy could take some breathers and with the funding we secured, all the money the state owed to individuals will be paid off in the next few months. Banks are being recapitalized to provide loans to households and companies. Liquidity will return to the Greek market.”
But even as 75 percent of Greeks want the country to stay in the Eurozone, a poll by Kapa Research Survey for To Vima newspaper found that the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) still is favored by most Greeks over New Democracy. And some 64 percent said that 2013 will be worse than even the previous three years of austerity.
The poll gives SYRIZA 22.6 percent support, New Democracy 21.5, Golden Dawn 9.8, PASOK 6.2, the Communist Party (KKE) 5.2, Democratic Left (DIMAR) 5 percent and Independent Greeks 3.8 percent.
There was little reason for any party to be happy as the poll showed 77.3 percent of respondents said they are unhappy with the current ND-PASOK-DIMAR administration, while 79.3 percent said they are not satisfied with the leftist opposition even though it’s ranked first.