ATHENS – Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Oct. 4 asked visiting European Commission President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker’s support for Greece as the government goes through tough talks with international lenders.
Juncker, former head of the Eurozone, takes over as head of the Commission on Nov. 1 and was back in Greece for the second time in a month, as envoys from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) are in the capital to check the books and review the progress of 700 undone reforms.
Samaras is seeking an early exit from what remains of 240 billion euros ($317 billion) in two bailouts from the Troika but is wrangling with it over tax cuts he promised and is readying a case for debt relief, for which he’d like Juncker’s backing, along with support for Greece’s case it doesn’t want to undertake any more pension cuts.
“He has to know what the main issues in Greece are and what our positions are on a range of issues,” a high-ranking government official who preferred to remain anonymous told Kathimerini. “He is not responsible for the review but he is a key player,” added the official, saying Juncker indicated that tackling the Greek issue would be one of his priorities when he starts his new job.
The future Commission chief had a working lunch with Samaras before the two men held further talks in which Deputy Prime Minister and PASOK Socialist Evangelos Venizelos, Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis and Samaras’ adviser Stavros Papastavrou took part.
The Greek government believes that at a time when France and Italy have begun questioning economic policy within the single currency area, Juncker could prove a useful ally who will be broadly aligned with Greece’s position.
Samaras will be in Brussels next week for the European Union leaders’ summit and will push Greece’s case while he is there. He will return in time for the vote of confidence in the government, due to take place late on Oct. 10.
Tension has already begun building in Parliament ahead of the ballot. Labor Minister Yiannis Vroutsis claimed a government led by the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) would not be able to pay pensions, while leftist MP Alexis Mitropoulos said that if his party came to power it would order a parliamentary investigation into the pension system.