How Is Samaras Doing? So Far, the Euro Zone Likes the New Greek Leader

There is a lot of hardship ahead but so far Merkel and the Germans like what they hear from the Greek Prime Minister. Will the honeymoon last?

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Silva / Demotix / Corbis

Greek president Antonis Samaras made his first visit to Berlin, to discuss with German Chancellor Angela Merkel the European debt crisis.

Just two months after his party eked out a victory in contentious Greek elections, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is wooing another tough crowd: euro-zone leaders.

Last week was a good start. On Wednesday, he got the backing of Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker, when Juncker visited Athens and declared that he was “totally opposed” to Greece leaving the euro, the European Union’s common currency. On Friday, Samaras also received the support of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country is the biggest contributor to the bailout loans to Greece. “I want Greece to stay in the euro zone and that’s what I’m working for,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin, rebuking anti-Greece lawmakers in her own governing coalition. And on Saturday, French President Francois Hollande said he saluted Greeks for weathering painful austerity cuts over the last two-and-a-half years.

(MORE: Antonis Samaras: The Aristocrat Who Now Leads Austerity-Ridden Greece)

However, the Europeans’ newfound love for Greece has little to do with Samaras himself, who infuriated euro-zone leaders for two years when he virulently opposed austerity measures during the Socialist PASOK government led by former premier George Papandreou. The euro-zone brass simply views Samaras as the country’s “last chance leader,” says Janis Emmanoulidis, a senior analyst at the European Policy Centre in Brussels. “Samaras has long been seen as an obstructionist but the Europeans believe there isn’t another option,” Emmanoulidis says.

European leaders were openly relieved in June when Syriza, led by telegenic young engineer Alexis Tsipras, narrowly lost to Samaras’ New Democracy party. European leaders have continued to distance themselves from Tsipras. Juncker refused to meet with him on Wednesday, prompting one Syriza parliamentary deputy, Dimitris Papadimoulis, to call the snub “an insult to democracy.” Though Tsipras insists he wants Greece to remain in the common currency, euro-zone leaders and Samaras himself labeled Tsipras anti-euro because of Syriza’s threats to tear up the memorandum of agreement between international lenders and Greece. Der Spiegel even listed Tsipras as one of the 10 most dangerous politicians in Europe.

“European leaders believe Samaras will be far easier to negotiate with than Tsipras, whom they feared as an even bigger obstructionist,” Emmanoulidis says. “But there’s fear that if Samaras doesn’t come through, Greece won’t make it.”

Samaras, a 61-year-old Harvard-trained economist from a patrician family, has his work cut out for him. After savaging Papandreou, his former roommate at Amherst College, for pushing through austerity measures, Samaras must now do the same thing. The government plans cuts in pensions, healthcare spending and public sector jobs and must also revive an ambitious plan to privatize state assets for revenue to pay off Greece’s massive debts. Both the privatization plan and the public sector reform has angered unions and Syriza supporters, who say they plan to fight back with more anti-austerity protests this fall. This opposition could weaken resolve in the two other parties in the governing coalition, PASOK and the Democratic Left, and make it challenging to pass the measures through a hostile parliament.

(MORE: Greece’s Election Results: Déjà Vu All Over Again?)

To avoid even harsher austerity measures, Samaras is hoping euro-zone lenders give Greece two extra years — until the end of 2016 — to meet deficit targets set by international lenders. Austerity has so weakened the Greek economy, he says, that it needs time to recover. The economy is in its fifth year of recession, unemployment is at more than 23%, and Greeks are trying to pay rising bills on drastically reduced incomes. “My husband and I can always eat what we grow in our garden, but what will happen if the bills keep growing and our pensions keep getting cut?” says Eftichia Karoutsos, a 77-year-old retired school custodian on the Aegean island of Ikaria. “What will happen if we run out of money to pay?”

Samaras told the German tabloid Bild last week that asking for extra time to meet the targets does not mean Greece wants extra money. “We stand by our commitments,” he told the newspaper. “But we have to stimulate the economy because that will shrink the deficit. All we want is a little breathing space to get the economy growing and increase state revenues.”

The man who might make that happen is Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, a respected Oxford-trained economist known in Brussels for his discipline and consistency. Stournaras has long criticized Greece as the last “Soviet-style economy” and has pushed for privatization of state assets for years. Stournaras “has got the credibility with European leaders, especially finance ministers and officials in Brussels, that many others in Greece are lacking,” says Platon Tinios, an economist at the University of Piraeus.

One euro-zone leader, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, has said he will support giving Greece extra time, as long as the government follows through on promised reforms such as privatization and the restructuring of the public sector.

(MORE: Greek Elections: A Referendum on the Euro?)

Merkel, Juncker and Hollande say won’t commit to extra time for deficit targets until they see a report on Greece next month by debt inspectors representing the country’s lenders.

If the report is dismal, it could deter euro-zone leaders from showing any leniency on austerity and also revive talk of a Greek euro-zone exit.

Samaras says that European leaders who speculate constantly about Greece leaving the euro zone are repelling investors and preventing the economy from recovering. In an interview with German television, Merkel also warned members of her own governing coalition to tone down anti-Greece rhetoric because they’re putting the euro zone at risk.

There’s concern that if the Europeans continue to play hardball and demand more austerity, it could incite another wave of unrest in Greece, where a polarized society blames its political establishment for bankrupting the country and then selling it out to international lenders. Tinios, the economist, says Samaras and his coalition will likely soldier on even in the face of protests. “Another election this year would be suicidal,” Tinios says. “Both the Samaras government and the Europeans know that. And neither wants to go down as the ones who pulled the plug on Greece.”

MORE: The Greece That Can Say ‘No!': Alexis Tsipras May Hold the Fate of the Euro in His Grip

6 comments
Ahra Ah
Ahra Ah

interesting ! so far eurozone likes the greek leader , apparently the nation does not count as long as he does as he is  told like a good boy !

Firozali A.Mulla
Firozali A.Mulla

No there are too many mouths to feed and little bread and he cannot feed all I thank you Firozali A.Mulla DBA

tomthumb015
tomthumb015

Greece as been foot dragging over economic reforms long before this present crisis. It as a deep rooted state control economy and should never have been allowed to join the euro. Everyone turned a blind eye to the fiddled national accounts when Greece was given the green light to join the euro.

Firozali A.Mulla
Firozali A.Mulla

When the

writer of the Face book was to pay tax he ran away from the place of residency

. He was and is a billionaire, so what do the small software amount to for the

West but read on Uneasiness over a proposed tax increase on the wealthy in

France is continuing. Upon his recent election, socialist President Francois

Hollande vowed to impose a 75 percent tax rate on those making more than a

million euros ($1.24 million). That promise has caused many of the country's

wealthiest residents to move away. Hollande said the tax hike is to "get

the country back on its feet again," but financial experts warn the plan

could do more harm than good as high earners take their money elsewhere. "Even

young, dynamic people pulling in 200,000 euros are wondering whether to remain

in a country where making money is not considered a good thing," French

tax law attorney Vincent Grandil said. He added that many companies are now

looking at moving their high-paid executives out of France to avoid the new

tax. One real estate manager in Belgium called the tax idea

"ridiculous" for France, but good for his country. He anticipates

people, and businesses, will move to Belgium, create jobs, and spend money in

the neighbouring country Parliament will address the 75 percent income tax rate

in September.I thank you Firozali A.Mulla DBA

Joe Mushroom
Joe Mushroom

We the Greeks did not like the rigged elections where they enforced their Samaras puppet. We are paying the price through greater unemployment, increased income+pension taxes(1/3 of a year wage, even unemployed ppl pay taxes..), there are cut wages, cut pensions and the appalling public servants (who got their job through connections-goes back to the corrupt 70s)..they have it good but need to be drastically reduced (they don't do anything), in other sectors people are getting laid off every second, we are also getting a another huge tax every year which was enforced in our electricity bill (shame on them). The cost of living is increasing due to inflation. The young generations are moving out as unemployment is 50%+. Young people are working for free, paying to work, or take 4h shifts a day. The tax evaders like in every country are the few rich guys at the top. Greeks have the longest working hours out of any country in the EU. There are also no investments done in Greece whatsoever and everything has not only turned to chaos but poverty is here stronger than ever. We are all just pawns to the EU central bank, the pathetic EU Commission, the IMF, the World Bank, the Federal Reserve. The Euro will never collapse because of the one world currency being instated, that's why the US dollar is becoming equivalent to the Pound Sterling and the Euro. Greece is made an example of in the big 5 media corporations for everyone to agree with their plans. It's all towards the planned New World Order which will actually be created by everyone grouping up revolting against this corrupt system, all to instate further slavery. I urge everyone to research the New World Order, Illuminati, Council on Foreign Relations, United Nations, Bilderberg group, Trilateral commission, global warming/climate change scam, chemtrails, GMOs, NSA, DARPA, CIA, FBI, Interpol, psy ops, MK ULTRA/project monarch, Blackwater projects, the Rotshchilds/Rockefellers, religious corporations, the Black Nobility, freemason puppets as well as many more. Be critical of everything you read in media and education. Be careful who you believe in though, there is a lot of new age BS out there. RESEARCH, BE CRITICAL AND BE YOURSELF. Never be afraid to speak your minds and always go against censorship. Individualism will save us against what will come after collectiveness, the dreaded New World Order. History repeats itself and yet there are patterns so always question the missing information, why is this all being done? is Greece seriously the cause of a world economic disaster? 11m people out of a world of 7bn, a small country of the size of some other countries' capitals. Save us the propaganda.

romano71
romano71

No, you are paying the price for your irresponsible behavior, which involves tax evasion (income for businesses and independent workers, not payroll - or commodity taxes, like gas and electricity), for always expecting to squeeze the government out of money, which they finally had to borrow and finally for electing the people you elected, without keeping tabs on what they were doing nor caring for it. To top it off, you are still talking about blaming other people....where is your personal responsibility? Man up!