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Antonis Samaras: scenarios for a new government are a political anomaly

15 December 2013 / 14:12:03  GRReporter
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In an interview with journalist Alexis Papahelas of Kathimerini newspaper, Samaras absolutely categorically denied the likelihood of triple elections in May. In parallel, he rejected the possibility of a new government within this Parliament. The Prime Minister noted that if narrow party interests were taken into account, triple elections would be more beneficial. However, he himself considered the smooth exit of the crisis of paramount importance.

Samaras noted that partners should make the decision for the settlement of the Greek debt by the spring at the latest. He made it clear that there is disagreement within the Troika and stressed that there will be no new memorandum. He also revealed that he has recently met Costas Karamanlis and they talked like good friends. At the same time, he attacked SYRIZA President Alexis Tsipras, accusing him of populism, which, according to him, "is the biggest enemy today."

- After the budget, the government is facing another very hard vote in Parliament for the real estate tax. In the past, New Democracy MPs who voted against critical laws were excluded from the parliamentary group. Will the same thing happen this time?

- There will be no problem. Firstly, because we absolutely respect both consultations and parliamentary debate. We listen to our members and MPs from all parties when they say something right, our ears are open, as well as our minds. A typical example is the bill for the tax on real estate. We held a wide and meaningful discussion with our colleagues. And we really had an understanding on issues which seemed to be insurmountable. Secondly, in turn, our lawmakers have shown absolute responsibility and supported very difficult bills that have already passed. From now on, there will be much fewer difficulties.

- You have spoken abroad about "airbags" in connection with the parliamentary majority. What did you mean?

Something very simple, which actually should not need explanation: apart from partisan controversy, which is something natural in any parliament, there is common sense and a sense of national interest which this government imposes in order to finish its work and be judged by the results after the work is finished. And it should not be forced to leave it in the middle, throwing the country back into anarchy. We are trying to get away from the brink very quickly, and we should not be forced back there. And not only we who govern see it, but many others see it, too. I said that obviously there are many who will not allow a cycle of political anomaly in Greece in case they do not agree with us. And I am absolutely convinced.

- How would you respond to scenarios for another government within this Parliament?

- I think, and I declare categorically, that these are scenarios of the political anomaly! Because they can only take place as a result of a political anomaly. And they will surely lead to political chaos. Do not forget that what we've been through and are still trying to overcome is unprecedented. It cannot be compared to anything that Greece has experienced in recent decades. At a time when I am dedicating all my energy to issues such as how to overcome the crisis, how to turn deficits into surpluses, how to reverse the bad image of the country abroad, how to strengthen the position of Greece in an increasingly turbulent international environment, how to push through reforms in response to interests of affected parties which are doing everything possible in order to frustrate, how to achieve a further reduction of our debt and how to get major investments, if I had to think about "movements" or "scenarios" of the political anomaly, then I would be doing those who want to see our country on its knees, uncontrollable, "ruinous and pernicious at the same time" a favour. I would not do such a favour to anyone for any reason. I am on the right track, I stand in the light, I say what I have to say, we work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, and why not even more. People see and understand this. I am not interested in those who move on the dark side. But people see them, too and understand them. They also understand their motives. And, if necessary, they would be given the appropriate response. But I do not think that will be necessary...

- Former Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis is officially silent, but publications about relations between you are continuous. Actually, how would you describe your relationship with the former Prime Minister?

- Our relations are excellent as always. A few days ago we met and talked like good friends. And I think that nothing could change that...

Elections should be held every 4 years

- Mr. Tsipras has recently said that the European elections will mark the fall of the government. Will the government be able to continue its life if New Democracy is the second force in the European elections?

- It seems that Tsipras is dreaming about how this government will be overthrown at any cost. However, this is not happening... He has announced this many times so far: he should have overthrown us by the spring. He failed. Afterwards, this should have happened in the early summer. Again, he did not do it... Later, it should have happened in the autumn. He even announced a rebellion of schools and universities. This still did not work, either. And now - the European elections... It would be better if he tried to find an alternative for the country. Because he still hasn’t found one... And only afterwards he should see how he will convince his party. Because he seems not to have convinced them so far. The problem with Mr Tsipras is that in order to approach the government, he should abandon populism. But if he tried to do so, he would lose his party! This is the epitome of populism and irresponsibility. And he neither wants it, nor can he do it. I wish things were different...

- Given that in 2015 there will be presidential elections, wouldn’t it be appropriate to carry out triple elections next May?

- We should learn that elections are held every four years in Greece! The first signs of the exit from the crisis will be seen in the first half of 2014. Why do we need to rush to elections when we have seen only "the first signs"? Why not hold them in the normal way when the country's exit from the crisis will be completed in 2016? And when the country will stand on its own two feet, in March 2015, who would dare to trigger elections and risk breaking this course? You know, elections are a prerequisite for normality, when they are properly held, i.e. every four years. When they are extraordinary, this is a symptom of a crisis. And when they are constantly extraordinary, it is a factor of crisis. In May - June 2012, we had to stop the continuing decline in the country. We did it in 17 months! Now the rise has begun. And we have to finish it smoothly. This will be indicative not only of "the next day", but of the coming decades. Do you think that I do not see that it would be advantageous to have triple elections from the point of view of the party? But it is beneficial for the country to exit the crisis completely. And this is the greatest priority for me.

- What do you think is the biggest enemy today?

- Populism! This is always true, but particularly in difficult times like now. And people are going to be bombarded with "stories of fear" which are constantly refuted, such as the story that the main housing of the poor and unemployed will be auctioned. It was refuted, but returned shortly after. And another one -that they will confiscate property. But the new property tax reduces the tax for most taxpayers. And yet another one... taxed deposits! At a time when all recognise that the Greek banking system, following its recapitalisation, is protected in the best way. A year ago we were blamed for not hitting evasion. Now, we have expanded the tax base, which is a prerequisite for a strike against tax evasion. And we are blamed again... Not long ago, we were blamed for the recapitalisation of the banking system. But we did it in order to protect deposits and restore liquidity. And now we are being blamed because deposits are in danger! Who blames us? Those who blamed us in the past, when we defended the system. Our biggest enemy is the daily lie, which attacks citizens and poisons society. Remember, however, that lies have short legs.

"We insist that the decision for a further reduction of the debt should be made in the spring"

- It seems that the final decisions on the Greek debt will be made after the European elections. Given that the primary surplus for Greece will be confirmed in April, wouldn’t it be economically and politically unwise if decisions were delayed? Could this be changed?

- Yes, and that's why we insist that the decision for a further reduction of our debt should be made in the spring, as soon as they formalise the amount of the surplus. At the same time, the ways for the reduction of our debt can be decided on immediately thereafter. But the decision must be made in the spring. I believe that our partners accept this...

- If necessary, will you sign a third Memorandum in order to cover the country’s funding?

- Memoranda are signed when an agreement starts or is being revised. In our case, we have the full implementation of the second agreement. We are fulfilling the objectives of the programme and implementing the requirements for each step... Additional support is provided by the agreement, so we do not have to sign a new Memorandum. Therefore, nobody wants a new agreement, neither we (because it will mean new conditions), nor our creditors (because they have to be passed again in Parliament, which is not easy). Thus, we are talking about the implementation of the existing agreement, with the same programme, and not about a new agreement with new terms.

Taxes have brought citizens to their knees this year

- Mr Stournaras has recently denied that there is over-taxation in Greece and provoked many reactions. What is your comment?

- I think that this has been answered. If you compare total tax revenues of the state to the total GDP, you will ascertain that we are near or below the European average. But there are other dimensions. A relatively large proportion of national incomes are not taxed. For the first time this year, we have reduced tax evasion, but we must be persistent, since there is still tax evasion. Thus, there are many who avoid paying, while others pay illogically large amounts. Therefore, we are expanding the tax base, so that in the end we could take a little from many, and not a lot from few people, and that of the poorest. Taxpayers were very busy in 2013, because they covered all their unpaid taxes from previous years. Thus, they were actually over taxed. But to tell the whole truth, there were a lot of tax payments in Greece this year. No matter what the statistics say, most citizens felt it. But in 2014, this will be limited and the situation will normalise. The tax burden of citizens will decrease significantly.

A wave of reforms

- High schools will remain closed for 6 months. Aren’t there wrong decisions and political responsibility?

- Allow me to point something out. We are not talking about government decisions; we are talking about the implementation of large and sustained reforms, which no one has dared to carry out so far in Greece. And even internationally... How can we talk about right and wrong decisions if this has not happened so far? We're talking about a system of "settlement" that affects not only partisan appointments, but groups of related individuals in universities who have been covered by the "autonomy" and afforded abuses for decades.

When we tried to change it, most universities agreed. However, some felt that they were above the law and refused to comply with this, until they realised that the law applies to all... We did what everybody has wanted for years... This is the main problem of reform - when things are being done for the first time, we cannot perceive them as something routine that could be done a little differently. The important thing is that reforms are taking place. And it is a little hypocritical, since no government has dared to do so, to criticize us for "timidity." And when we dared, while some of them vehemently opposed, we are criticized with statements such as "Why is it done like that, and not differently?" Here the issue is that there is courage, we have made cuts, reforms are progressing and everything is being changed.

"The main housing of the poor will be protected"

- Some have the impression that part of the leadership of the Troika is pulling the rope too much, which leads to problems in negotiations. Do you share this opinion and if so, to what do you attribute this behaviour?

- One general remark. There is not one person against us. We have three agencies: the IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank. And each body represents different interests and different visions. Thus, we have three different interlocutors, each with different limits. Sometimes even with a different agenda... Finally, there may be disagreements among agencies on important issues that are not related to Greece. We have always had a priority – Greece should not intervene in any disputes among creditors...

- Can you give an example?

- Of course. There is disagreement between the IMF and Europe on how to ensure debt sustainability. The IMF calls for "cutting" of the national debt. Europeans argue that this cannot be done because it needs parliamentary approval, and it is unlikely to pass in some parliaments. What we want is to fully ensure the sustainability of our debt. And it is happening - we have cut about 126 billion euro from the previous debt and about 20 billion from the future debt until 2020. We lack several billion euros in order to achieve the conventional limit of 124 % of GDP in 2020. This amount can be found in many ways: either as the IMF says, or as European institutions say. However, all of them have set as a prerequisite for Greece to achieve a primary surplus. And we have succeeded this year, earlier than they expected! Therefore, they promised to help us, we have fulfilled the requirements for receiving this extra help; they all agree that we should receive aid, but they cannot reach an agreement among themselves on how to do this. I do not want to interfere in this dispute. But its continuation affects us. However, I believe that it will be resolved in the coming months in a satisfactory way...

- Should we stay in negotiations? The question of the Greek defence systems is of paramount importance for the tranche in July. Auctions will follow, as well as the availability mode and cuts in the public sector. How will you act if there is no agreement?

- I believe that there will be an agreement soon about the Greek defence systems. They should be limited to the most necessary functional units and the necessary staff. However, they should also keep their productive capability, competitive nature and exports intact. They already have export orders. On such a competitive basis, we can build a modern defence industry, which I hope will develop soon without accumulating deficit for the country, like in the past. Instead, it will produce surpluses and may finance at least part of the armament programmes of the Greek armed forces. As far as auctions are concerned, I have said this before and I will say it again: the main housing will continue to be protected for the unemployed, the poor, disadvantaged and those with average incomes... However, the banking system should also be protected from the abusive practices of some people who have to pay their mortgages, but are protected by the common prohibition. Otherwise, banks will be able to provide new mortgages, especially to young people. On this basis, we all agree. But the protection of bank credits will not be at the expense of the weak, who cannot service their debts because of the economic crisis.

- Recently, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has produced a report which offers major structural changes, arguing that it will contribute to the development. Will you implement these reforms?

- Yes, this is the so-called toolkit of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, a list of another list of hundreds of individual interventions for the increase of market efficiency and competitiveness of the economy. This is the "next wave of reforms" concerning details of the restructuring of markets. And do you know that reforms are judged not just according to "general guidelines" and "major messages", i.e. blows against bureaucracy, tax evasion, cartels, the opening of closed professions, etc. Reforms are judged according to dozens of details that make these major messages real. Now, we are going into details and 70% of these rules are starting to be implemented without this being stringently required by the memorandum. We are doing it because it is right, because these are proven around the world and we should have done it years ago...

Tags: Antonis Samaras interview political scenarios elections
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