Prime Minister Antonis Samaras must shift his focus back to domestic concerns this week, chiefly on moving forward with economic measures pledged to the troika, following an official visit to Berlin where government officials expressed their continued support for the Greek reform effort.
Echoing the words of encouragement voiced by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble on Saturday expressed his “respect” for the Greek government and its efforts to mend the country’s ailing economy, noting however that progress in some areas was more impressive than in others.
“Greece was facing huge problems and it managed to beat the targets that it had been set,” Schaeuble told a conference organized by Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung. “When one looks at what they had to deal with on a domestic level, one has to be fair.
“We’re on the right track,” he added, noting that the reform effort should not be allowed to slack.
Samaras, for his part, conceded that his government still had a lot of ground to cover but ruled out the need for a third loan agreement with international creditors. “Many regarded Greece as a lost case,” Samaras told the same conference. “Now more and more people are referring to a spectacular comeback.”
Referring again to fiscal data which suggest that Greece is on target to post a primary surplus this year and in 2014, the premier attributed his government’s progress to both the sacrifices of the Greek people – a reference to a series of austerity measures imposed on Greeks – and to the support of Greece’s European peers.
He conceded that the latest round of negotiations with the troika has been difficult but said his government’s aim was to reach a deal by the end of the year “so that we can move very quickly to the next stage.”
With Greece due to assume the rotating presidency of the European Union on January 1, Samaras is keen to tie up loose ends with the troika. His attention – and that of his key ministers – is to focus this week on quickly progressing with pending “prior actions,” which must be completed in order for Athens to get the green light for the next tranche of rescue funding, a sum of 1 billion euros.
The main stumbling block in the talks with the troika, which are expected to resume on December 2, is the fate of the state defense firm EAS, which the troika reportedly wants to drastically streamline. The government must also finalize a list of the 4,000 civil servants that must be laid off until the end of the year. Efforts to overhaul Greece’s civil service have fuelled protests in several sectors and a vehement backlash from the political opposition.
Other looming hurdles for the government include a new unified property tax which is to go to a vote in Parliament before December 8 when next year’s budget is to be approved.
Asked at the conference in Berlin whether his government had the political capital to stay in power, Samaras said the coalition between conservative New Democracy and socialist PASOK was “stable” and “united in pursuing Greece’s European course.”