ATHENS – A team of Greek ministers is frantically trying to put together a winning strategy to convince international lenders at a Paris showdown to allow debt and austerity relief.
There are meetings scheduled from Sept. 2-4, just ahead of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ speech at the Thessaloniki International Fair where he hopes to announce tax breaks to Greeks he buried with big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings.
That was on the orders of the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) whose envoys are expected to drive a hard bargain in Paris. The meetings were moved to avoid protests in Athens although the Troika team will come there later in September.
The Greek delegation will be led by Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis and has set three main goals, Kathimerini said: to avoid finishing 600 undone reforms, persuade the Troika to release 3.5 billion euros in a pending installment now instead of waiting for the results of Greek bank stress tests, and allow a 50 percent cut in the solidarity tax and 20 percent off heating oil taxes.
With his New Democracy Conservatives trailing the anti-austerity major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) in polls – and Samaras’ coalition partner the PASOK Socialists now irrelevant – the Premier is keen to give beleaguered Greeks a break from the conditions he put on them.
He said they were necessary to save the country and that a rebound is coming, but they’ve also created record unemployment, deep poverty and made life miserable for a lot of people except the rich, politicians and those protected from austerity, including Parliament workers who threatened to strike if he went after them again.
The Greek side also has to be prepared to discuss what the government intends to do about bad loans that total 75 billion euros, including 250 million euros owed by New Democracy and PASOK who aren’t paying but who want indebted Greeks to pay theirs.
Other contentious issues expected to be discussed are restrictions to the powers, and funding, of labor unions and the boosting of employers’ rights to mass layoffs and lockouts.
In an interview with the New York Times, Hardouvelis said reforms could proceed more efficiently with the Troika “in the background,” and let the Greek economy to grow and not impose “new onerous targets” so Athens can better service its debt – which includes hopes for restructuring or even walking away from a big chunk of what’s owed.