Greek PM to ‘charm’ EU’s Juncker

BREATHING ROOM::Greece’s leader is meeting with EU leaders in the coming days to convince them of Athens’ commitment to reform amid resistance to the measures

Reuters, ATHENS

Thu, Aug 23, 2012 - Page 15

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was set to start a European charm offensive yesterday with talks to persuade Euro Group President Jean-Claude Juncker that the debt-laden nation has the will to ram through unpopular reforms and deserves more time to do it.

Juncker, the most influential European policymaker to visit Athens since the conservative-led government took power in June, is expected to tell Samaras bluntly that Greece must carry out promised cuts and that little room for leeway exists.

That message is likely to be hammered home again to the Greek leader when he travels to Berlin tomorrow to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and to Paris a day later for talks with French President Francois Hollande.

Samaras tried to ease fears, particularly strong in Germany, that Greece demands ever more money without delivering on its promises.

“All we want is a bit of ‘air to breathe’ to get the economy running and to increase state income. More time does not automatically mean more money,” he told Germany’s Bild newspaper.

“Let me be very explicit: we demand no additional money. We stand by our commitments and by fulfilling all our requirements. We have to crank up growth because that decreases the financial gaps,” he added.

European paymaster Germany, where patience with Greece has worn thin, has already said it will not soften its demands from the twice-bailed out country.

Key to restoring credibility will be Greece’s attempt to push through 11.5 billion euros (US$14.3 billion) of cuts over the next two years as demanded under the bailout — which Samaras’s administration has yet to fully piece together after weeks of wrangling.

Samaras and his moderate leftist and Socialist allies have broadly agreed on the measures, but the government is still struggling to nail down the final cuts amid howls of protest over plans to slash pensions and put civil servants in a so-called labor reserve before laying them off.

“We are trying to find the best possible mix and a fair distribution of pensions. We also have to protect those getting very low pensions,” a Ministry of Finance official said. “A second issue we continue to work on is the labor reserve.”

Because salary and pension cuts will lead to lower tax revenues, the government will have to find 13.5 billion euros in nominal savings to achieve its 11.5 billion euro target, the official said.

Parties have identified 10.8 billion euros in cuts so far. The measures will be presented for approval to the troika of officials from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF due back in Athens early next month for a final verdict on whether to keep money flowing to Greece.