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Greece hoping for calmer EU waters

Aug 26 2012 14:07 AFP

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Athens - Greece is hoping that a charm offensive around Europe by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras will halt a barrage of criticism as it labours to put delayed reforms on track and restore its credibility.

Samaras met in succession with key EU leaders German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker to stress that his government intended to honour its commitments to EU and IMF creditors.

"I'd like to believe that the meetings enabled us to slowly reverse a climate that existed against our homeland," the PM told NET radio.

"I repeat, slowly, because everyone is asking for proof that we are changing course. The effort will continue," Samaras said.

"The main goal was to say 'you have a credible interlocutor, that a new start has been made," political commentator Panagiotis Panagiotou told state TV NET.

"And secondly, to stop talk that Greece will be tossed out of the eurozone."

The meetings came as Samaras' coalition government prepares for a battle in parliament in the autumn to push through reform legislation that could test the cohesion of his socialist and moderate leftist allies.

A technical team from the auditor mission that monitors Greece's reform progress on behalf of its 'troika' of creditors - the EU, IMF and the European Central Bank - also returns to Athens this week.

The auditors are working with Greek officials to finalise a cuts package of €11.5bn in 2013 and 2014.

A positive report from the 'troika' is essential for Greece to get the next €31.5bn instalment of funds, part of a €130bn bailout, to keep it afloat.

In his first foreign tour since becoming PM, Samaras called in Berlin and Paris for a halt in "toxic" statements which he said were hampering the country's efforts to attract investors.

"In recent weeks Greece had become a punchbag for the Germans, the Finns, the Dutch," noted political commentator Antonis Papagiannidis.

Negative reports on Greece in German press

Merkel offered Samaras a ray of hope at their meeting, stressing that she wanted debt-burdened Greece to stay in the eurozone and pledging German help.

"I want to say very clearly ... that Greece is part of the eurozone and I want Greece to remain part of the eurozone. This guides all our discussions," Merkel said at a joint news conference with Samaras.

"I am deeply convinced that the new Greek government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Samaras, is doing everything to solve the problems that Greece is facing," she said.

Hollande had the same message, and he echoed the German leader by saying that the European Union would wait for a report on Greece's progress due in September before deciding on any additional help for the country.

For now, Greece had achieved little tangible progress in promised reforms that were stalled as the country held back-to-back elections in May and June until a workable government could be formed.

"Mr Samaras and the economic team have given all the right signals. But they have yet to carry out acts to radically change the climate in Europe," commented liberal daily Kathimerini.

The coalition's junior partner, the Democratic Left party, this month raised objections to put thousands of civil servants on labour reserve, a plan originally unveiled last year to trim the state payroll.

Samaras will also face resistance from unions on a privatisation drive promised by past governments that has failed to get off the ground.

The run-up to Samaras' meetings was coloured by negative reports about Greece in the German press and renewed pressure on Athens by officials.

According to a report in the Financial Times Deutschland, a secret cell has been set up within Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble's ministry to examine the possible consequences of a Greek exit from the eurozone.

The paper said the group was working on "calculating the financial consequences" and considering "how to prevent a domino effect onto other eurozone countries."

Samaras has claimed that the longer fiscal adjustment will not translate into more money for Greece but German officials say this is untrue.

Ta Nea daily on Saturday noted that according to IMF estimates, a two-year delay could cost around €20bn

To avoid appealing again to European taxpayers, the government is planning additional treasury bill issues and a longer repayment of existing EU loans, the daily said.

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imf  |  eu  |  greece
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