Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has repeated his pledge to never again impose austerity measures – although cuts are being made to pensions in some cases – and said instead he will move toward cutting taxes and providing relief for those most affected by big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings.
“The major changes come step by step, not suddenly,” he said in an interview with the Sunday To Vima newspaper. He promised to accelerate social reforms he said “will bring competitiveness and dynamic growth of the economy” and reverse injustices.
“Forget the elections,” he said, referring to the May 25 defeat of his New Democracy Conservatives to the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) which won more seats in the European Parliament. The Leftists said they want early national elections but he has rejected it.
He said a tax cut plan would be ready by the middle of autumn but he didn’t specify what it would be. Samaras repeated his insistence the economy, battered by seven years of recession, is on the road to recovery and that the still-crushing 315 billion euro ($430 billion) debt will be sustainable by the next decade.
Greece is surviving on what’s left of two bailouts of 240 billion euros ($327 billion) from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) that began four years ago, and most of which run out this year.
“As long as we meet our targets and are standing on our own feet then we would be able to promote our own reform agenda and not only what the Troika recommends,” said Samaras, clarifying that there will be no additional austerity measures.
“We are examining a series of interventions that are all necessary, most of them will surprise and will bring relief. However, they must be realistic and based on the results of the current State Budget. Some of these interventions will be applied within the next six months” he said.
He didn’t mention what the government will do about overcoming a court order that it must repay the military, emergency services, police and other uniformed officers 500 million euros in back pay after reductions to their salaries under austerity was declared unconstitutional.
There are other similar orders facing the government, including restoration of pension lump sums slashed as much as 38 percent, and which were also declared unconstitutional because the money was taken from workers pay checks to be put aside for their retirement, and not for the government to touch.
Greece now is heading toward asking the Troika for debt relief, although while the lenders have been open to talking about lowering interest and lengthening the repayment period they have ruled out a so-called “haircut,” in which Greece woudl walk away from a big chunk of what it owes.
That would force the taxpayers in the other 17 Eurozone countries to pay the tab for generations of wild overspending of Samaras’ New Democracy Conservatives and his coalition partner, the PASOK Socialists, who hired hundreds of thousands of needless workers in return for votes.
It Greece gets a break, Samaras said he could then try to restore jobs, with 1.4 million people out of work during record unemployment and deep poverty worsened by austerity he supported.
He said Greece’s cost of borrowing would then drop too if the government can stiff public investors the way it did to those in the private sector, including the Greek Diaspora, who took a 74 percent hit two years ago.
Samaras said his government will stay the course until the scheduled 2016 elections. “I believe that we will complete our four-year tenure. This ‘game’ must come to an end. Governments to be elected with mandate to govern for four years and not to exceed two years! This should happen only in emergency conditions,” he said.
SYRIZA could move to force the elections if it can get enough support in the Parliament to block the naming of the next symbolic Greek President but Samaras said he has enough backing to overcome the rivals.
“The government’s majority is more ‘comfortable’ now than it was a few months ago. This means that we also have improved the political stability and with the continuous improvement of the situations, I believe that we will have and a Presidential majority in March,” next year he said.
The coalition had only a three-vote majority in the 300-member Parliament but several former PASOK lawmakers are planning to return to the party.
Referring to main opposition SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, the premier said: “He is a young man and speaks an outdated language. He returns to stereotypes and obsessions swept away by history. And he wants to return the country to the …ice age”.