With his New Democracy Conservatives putting taxpayer-funded ads into the media with critical elections looming for the European Parliament and Greek municipalities this month, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras told private Antenna television in an interview that he won’t seek more bailouts and will try to get rid of austerity taxes later this year.
Samaras’ New Democracy Conservatives are being pressed hard by the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) which opposes the conditions attached to two bailouts of 240 billion euros ($330.7 billion) from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB), most of which run out this year.
Samaras said that his coalition, that includes the fast-fading PASOK Socialists, offers stability and an exit from a crushing economic crisis that worsened when he followed a previous Socialist government in imposing more pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings that created record unemployment and deep poverty.
Samaras appeared optimistic over the outcome of the May election and that he believed citizens would give him their imprimatur for his policies that he said would lead to a recovery.
“I believe that this will also be the result. Be sure of this. We cannot go to uncertainties, we cannot go to new measures”, he said, accusing SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras of pursuing instability.
“Matters must be very gloomy for SYRIZA, for it to be telling the Greek people at the moment that money exists” and he charged that the Leftists are exploiting the grief and pain of austerity.
Samaras rejected predictions that there shall be a new memorandum with the Troika, ruling out new measures, pension or wage cuts or tax increases although his government is set to deliver more pension cuts, breaking his vow not to do so.
He said that having achieved a primary surplus of 1.5 billion euros – excluding interest on the debt, the cost of running cities and towns, state enterprises,social security and some military expenditures – that the government can now ask the Troika for debt restructuring or relief.
That could include a write-down on the loans that would require the taxpayers in the other 17 Eurozone countries to pick up the debt for decades of profligate spending by PASOK and New Democracy administrations.
On the question of the debt, the prime minister termed the discussion that began on Monday on the debt as the last pending issue that will be completed at the end of the summer.
He stressed that until 2018, some 26.5 billion euros will be invested in Greece from National Strategic Reference Framework funds to be released.
He said there should be tax cuts for wage-earners and businesses and spoke of a unified tax in the region of 15 percent. In the meantime, the government hasn’t relented on pension cuts, including 30 percent or more in lump sums that workers earned from deductions out of their checks for decades.
A court has ruled those unconstitutional but the government has ignored but in a pre-election giveaway is also offering some austerity victims a one-time 500 euro ($696) so-called “social dividend on which they will later pay income taxes.
Much of that will go to a key constituency of New Democracy: police officers, members of the military and emergency personnel workers while some pensioners with monthly benefits of as low as 430 euros ($599) are being rejected.
He also appeared optimistic over a decrease in unemployment, predicting that it will drop to 24.5 percent in 2014 and 15 percent in 2018 from a record 27.6 percent on his watch. He offered no reason why and didn’t mention that he had not, as promised, produced a program in January to hire 75,000 young people who suffer 60 percent unemployment.
Referring to the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party his government is trying to dismantle – and get rid of its 18 Members of Parliament in the process to bolster the government’s slim two-vote majority – he said the country can’t tolerate the extremists.
“I do not believe that Greece, the cradle of democracy, can have strong parties of this sort,” Samaras said, “but on the other hand, I cannot forbid anyone from doing anything. Such is democracy. Let me repeat, however, that the specific issue is with justice, and absolutely nobody in the government is engaged with it.”
That was in apparent reference to a claim by a former top aide who was caught in a secret videotape telling the Golden Dawn spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, one of his party’s members who had been arrested on charges of running a criminal gang, that the government trumped up charges to get rid of the extremists and get their votes.