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Samaras Readies to Visit Merkel, Hollande to Make Greece's Case

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ brief summer vacation is just about over

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, struggling to get a consensus in his shaky coalition government for another $14.16 billion in cuts and austerity measures he’d vowed to avoid, will take his case to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Aug. 24. The next day he will visit French President Francois Hollande.
Before that, Samaras was scheduled to meet in Athens with Jean-Claude Juncker, chief of the Eurozone, the 17 countries that, including Greece, use the euro as a currency, and try to convince him that Greece is doing all it can to bring down its fiscal deficit.
Germany is Europe’s largest contributor to a first series of $152 billion in rescue loans for Greece and a second bailout of $173 billion that is on hold until Samaras makes more budget cuts and administers more reforms, although he reportedly will ask Greece’s lenders – the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) for a two-year extension to meet the fiscal targets it has set.
The pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions the Troika insisted upon have worsened a five-year-long recession, putting 1.15 million people out of work and shrinking the economy by 6.2 percent in the second quarter. The Troika also wants Greece to start repaying its second bailout – if it’s released at all – in 2016, but Samaras wants that pushed back to 2020.
He will have a hard sell as many senior members in Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) have lost patience with what they said is Greece’s unwillingness to make reforms and they want the bailouts to stop and for Greece to leave the Eurozone. A Greek government official told Reuters that, “Our priority is to regain our credibility by showing our determination.” Hollande, elected on the same day in June that Samaras’ New Democracy Conservative party also won, but without enough of the vote, forcing him to form a coalition, has said that Greece has no choice but to administer more austerity although he campaigned on an anti-austerity platform.
When he returns, Samaras will find a hostile domestic audience as he tries to prepare Greeks, already crushed by austerity measures, that he’s going to put more on them, although he said during his campaign ahead of the June 17 elections that he would not. Samaras and his reluctant partners, the PASOK Socialists of Evangelos Venizelos and the Democratic Left of Fotis Kouvelis, under recently promised Greeks there would be no more pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions but the government is set to deliver more deep cuts in pensions.
Berlin insists that Athens honor its pledges but was open to discussion, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters. Asked about a two-year extension, he said: “The Chancellor will of course first listen to what Mr. Samaras has to say about the situation in Greece and about the implementation of its program. For her, as for the rest of the German government, the agreed memorandum of understanding which sets out what the Greeks must achieve and which remains valid for us, forms the basis for working together with or helping Greece.”
But even if he gets the extension, Samaras’ government then would have to raise from $24.6-$61.7 billion but said it would not ask the Troika for assistance. Reuters said EU officials are working out a “last chance” for Greece to reduce its staggering $460 billion debt and bring its deficit, now at 9.1 percent, to 3 percent within two years, a goal many analysts said cannot be achieved.

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