ATHENS – Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has promised speeded-up growth, lower taxes and 770,000 new new jobs if his conservative New Democracy party holds on to power in national elections and defeats the leading major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA).
Since he was elected in 2012, overseeing a pair of coalition adminstrations, Samaras has imposed big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions, and worker firings on orders of international lenders but says even he’s had enough of it and vowed no more.
Instead, he said again during an intense campaign with his party losing ground to the anti-austerity Leftists, he would cut taxes, raise pay, produce more benefits and try to reverse record unemployment through unspecified growth measures.
He said it would, however, take six years to produce the new jobs and asked Greeks to be patient as he said the country is on the verge of recovery from a crushing economic crisis caused largely by his party and its coalition partner, the fast-fading PASOK Socialists, going on wild spending binges for decades and hiring hundreds of thousands of needless workers in return for votes.
Addressing party supporters and officials – Greek politicians traditionally appear only before their friends in campaigns – he promised to undo a lot of what he’s done if only voters will bring him back.
By 2021, he says faster than predicted economic growth would add at least 770,000 jobs and bring Gross Domestic Product (GDP) levels it reached before a deep financial crisis hit in 2008 and fell 25 percent.
While the economy technically is out of recession there are still about 1.25 million unemployed, over a quarter of the workforce but he said he would create new jobs in agriculture and tourism without saying how.
With two weeks to go before the elections, Samaras and SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras are sniping at each other and blaming each other for the country’s ills or prospects.
Samaras on Jan. 10 outlined what he called a “roadmap for a post-bailout Greece,” referring to the two rescue packages from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) of 240 billion euros ($306 billion) that came with attached harsh austerity measures he implemented after opposing them while out of office.
Samaras says jobs will be created mostly in the agriculture and tourism sectors.
After raising taxes he said he will now cut them, especially the hated unified property tax called ENFIA that saw astronomical increases.
He said he will introduce a flat corporate tax of 15 percent, revoke pension and benefit cuts for ethnic Greeks from the Soviet Union and Black Sea region.
He said he would protect primary residences from foreclosures demanded by the Troika after he went along with them and try to convince Greeks to turn deposits to the country after many turned to foreign accounts to duck taxes and fears of losing their money.
“Now we are entering a growth period and it is time for increases,” Samaras said, noting that any boosts will be properly priced and will not unbalance the budget. He added that Greece could “exit the memorandum a year before schedule.”
Samaras also lashed out at leftist SYRIZA, noting that it aspired to a “Soviet-style economy” and was making pledges it could not keep. “When someone promises you everything… without telling you how he will pay for it, he will take it back with interest,” he said.
Tsipras pooh-poohed Samaras’ promises and said that the Premier was trying to scare Greeks into not voting for SYRIZA which has promised to renegotiate the terms of the Troika bailouts or renege on the debt, which could leave Greece broke, unable to borrow from the markets and even forced out of the Eurozone as the Premier warned.
Tsipras said that he would protect farmers and said that continuing austerity policies would turn Greece into a “colony” and stressing the need for “a break from the past.”
Greeks aren’t taking any chances on who wins and have yanked three billion euros out of the banks in the past few weeks, worried about talk of confiscations as happened in Cyprus when that government needed a Troika bailout.
Talk is growing too that banks, who got close to 50 billion euros in recapitalization, might need another injection just weeks after they said they were returning to stability – just before Samaras was forced to call the snap elections when his coalition didn’t get the needed votes to get his New Democracy Vice-President Stavros Dimas elected Greek President by the Parliament.
While Germany – the biggest contributor to the bailouts and demanding austerity in return – has denied it’s readying for a Greece exit from the Eurozone the newspaper Kathimerini said that the the German Finance Ministry has sought data from organizations that can assess the impact on its economy if that happens.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)
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