ATHENS – Trying to fend off his political poll-leading rivals SYRIZA, Prime Minister and New Democracy Conservative leader Antonis Samaras said Greece has been rescued from the brink of collapse and isn’t like the post-World War I German government that became a dictatorship and fell to Adolf Hitler.
Speaking at the Democracy Under Pressure forum organized by Kathimerini and the International New York Times. he said Greece has returned from the brink of collapse as he lauded its ability to keep going through the damaging effects of an economic crisis largely caused by his partner and his partner, the PASOK Socialists.
“There will be no Weimar scenario for Greece… Greece is back,” Samaras said, referring to the disastrous German Republic whose failures ultimately led to World War II.
“Two years ago this country was falling apart …we were the weakest link in Europe,” he said, referring to high debt and deficit levels, the skepticism of European leaders about Greece’s prospects, frequent strikes and capital flight.
“Now the picture is different,” he added, making reference to a series of positive economic indicators suggesting that Greece is back on track, including its achievement of a primary surplus and climbing the global competitiveness index.
“We jumped from 147 to 36 in the competitiveness index… and we are going to move further up, to the real top places of world competitiveness,” he added.
He didn’t mention that two bailouts of 240 billion euros ($317 billion) from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) have failed to make a dent in the still staggering debt of 275.25 billion euros ($362 billion) or the austerity measures he imposed on its orders, creating record unemployment and deep poverty.
Samaras likened Greek democracy to a living organism that has the ability to withstand crises. “It can go through crises but it possesses corrective mechanisms, it has its own antibodies so most of the time it overcomes its problems, it survives, recuperates and grows stronger than before… The problem is when those antibodies fail.”
Taking a swipe at SYRIZA, which is leading New Democracy, Samaras said populism and extremism were the two main threats to democracy in Greece.
He said the government would combat this by “fighting the lies with the truth,” adding that “sweeping reforms” were also necessary as well as “correcting social distortions.” He didn’t mention his coalition has failed to finish some 600 reforms insisted upon by the Troika.
Speaking two days after SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras set out his party’s economic program in Thessaloniki, Samaras seemed to suggest that the leftists are “the enemies of reform.”
“They are launching their last campaign to derail what we have achieved so far,” he said during his speech at the Stoa of Attalos, where he was joined by Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis, the executive head of the UN Democracy Fund, Annika Savill, the ex-president of Slovenia, Danilo Turk, and Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. “The more they fail to present themselves as a credible alternative, the more fraudulent commitments will be spread around.”
Earlier in the day, Deputy Prime Minister/Foreign Minister/PASOK chief Evangelos Venizelos also addressed the forum and highlighted the “crisis of legitimacy” in Europe.
In between the two speeches, the coalition leaders met with Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis at the Maximos Mansion, where they discussed the recent meeting between Greek ministers and Troika representatives in Paris.
Kathimerini said that Hardouvelis warned Samaras and Venizelos to expect a tough time when the Troika inspectors arrive in Athens toward the end of the month, undercutting the Premier’s assertions that he has created what he called a “success story” for Greece.
Hardouvelis said that Greece’s lenders want the government to proceed with pension and labor reforms. The coalition, however, has no appetite for such changes because of political fears the ruling parties could take further hits.
During the meeting, Samaras also reportedly turned down Venizelos’ request for the government to consider changing the electoral law, which gives the first party past the post an extra 50 seats in Parliament.