With Greece holding the symbolic rotating European Union Presidency until June 30, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, speaking in Brussels, said that fighting unemployment and investing in the bloc’s human capital is a priority, although neither he nor his colleagues have offered ways to do it yet.
Samaras used the occasion to say Greece has made great strides in righting its economy since he took office in June, 2012, although critics said his continued imposing of harsh austerity measures on orders of international lenders has created a record jobless rate and deep poverty. He said he’s crafting a “success story.”
Speaking after the EU Tripartite Social Summit, he said: “I think that the most important economic resource that Europe has is its human capital. This is our greatest competitive advantage. We have to invest in it, not let it depreciate through a chronic unemployment problem,” he underlined, the Athens News Agency reported.
Last year he said he would announce in January this year a jobs program to put 75,000 of Greece’s young back to work but it didn’t happen and he hasn’t said a word about it since. The unemployment rate for those under 25 has varied from 60-65 percent with many giving up and leaving the country to find work and a better life elsewhere.
Samaras was speaking during a joint press conference with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who praised him to the skies for continuing with austerity measures that have protected the Eurozone, the 18 countries that use the euro, from jeopardy.
Samaras said the worst is over for Greece even though the results aren’t showing in adding jobs and with half of Greece’s small-and-medium-sized (SMEs) companies saying they may shut their doors this year.
Samaras said that all sides were now “looking ahead to more and better Europe” and emphasized that the only way advance such an ambitious goal was through sustainable growth, “leaving no one behind, creating opportunities for everyone” although no one offered any solutions for it.
“In the short run, this means supporting recovery and fighting unemployment, especially youth unemployment, which is currently at record highs all across Europe,” he said.
“We cannot move ahead while our youth is excluded or left on the side lines. We have to reverse this trend immediately and we can only do this when we are together,” he emphasized.
He said there was an urgent need to boost access to liquidity for SME’s, saying this was a “primary, immediate priority”, especially in efforts to fight joblessness.
“I believe the SMES are providing the largest part of the solution to our problem, which is employment and growth, and we cannot achieve any of our targets without providing our SMEs all over Europe with easier access to bank credit and without our banks being able to provide such a credit,” he said.
Referring to Greece’s experiences and the crisis, Samaras emphasized the need to demonstrate that “Europe works” and also that “Europe cares,” stressing the need for strong European solidarity.
“The overall message, I think, and that of the Greek EU Presidency also, is to deepen the social dimension of the European family, together with the 2020 European strategy,” he added.
Talking about a freshly-sealed deal with the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) that still needs Parliamentary approval, Samaras said the result “underlines the great improvement that Greece has gone through in the last 20 months, in terms of achieving its basic fiscal targets and in terms of implementing sweeping reforms, which enhance competitiveness in our economy.”