ATHENS – Readying for a vote of confidence in Parliament he seems certain to win, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has gotten a lift from the Greece’s 2015 budget draft prepared by his Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis which shows a steady return to growth from a crushing economic crisis and promises of tax breaks.
With his New Democracy Conservatives trailing in popularity polls to the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) that opposes the austerity measures he imposed on orders of international lenders, Samaras has been eager to show beleaguered Greeks he’s on their side again. ‘
He initially opposed the pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings he later embraced when he took office in winning the June, 2012 elections but without enough of the vote to rule outright, forcing him to form a coalition with his political rival the PASOK Socialists and the Democratic Left (DIMAR), which dropped out last year in a dispute over worker firings.
Samaras on Oct. 6 submitted the confidence vote request and it will be debated Oct. 8-10 and voted on at midnight on Oct. 10. With his coalition controlling 154 votes in the 300-member Parliament, and nine deputies from the ultra far-right Golden Dawn in jail awaiting trial on charges of running a criminal gang, he needs only 146 votes to prevail.
A bigger challenge for the government is securing the support of 180 MPs for its Presidential candidate in February when Karolos Papoulias’ term ends. If the government fails, early elections will be called and SYRIZA has the pole position.
In a bid to bolster the coalition’s ranks ahead of the political challenges ahead, Samaras met in Parliament’s canteen with several New Democracy MPs. Topics of discussion included taxes, funding for local projects and hospitals, and farmers’ pensions, according to sources, Kathimerini said.
On leaving Parliament, Samaras appeared upbeat, telling reporters that he expected “a good year for Greece, for stability, growth and for a reduction in unemployment.”
Earlier Hardouvelis had presented a draft budget predicting a primary surplus for next year worth 2.9 percent of Gross Domestic Product and a rolling return to growth, of 0.6 percent of GDP this year, and 2.9 percent in 2015. The draft provides for no loans from the International Monetary Fund for next year with Samaras seeking an early exit from two bailout deals from the Troika, which includes the IMF, European Union and European Central Bank.
The budget – the first to be balanced in four decades after wild overspending by alternating New Democracy and PASOK administrations – also trumpeted a series of tax cuts and other relief following four years of austerity although the Troika hasn’t given its imprimatur.
Apart from a 30 percent reduction to a tax on heating oil, and a 30 percent cut to a so-called solidarity tax on income, the budget also earmarked some 540 million euros to reverse salary and pension cuts to police and armed forces employees and judges, agreeing to follow a court order Samaras had ignored.
The details of the budget, and the tax relief it foresees, must still be approved by representatives of the Troika who are reviewing the country’s lack of progress on reforms, which could undercut Samaras’ plans.
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