Fresh off a triumphant visit from Chinese peer Li Keqiang, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras now is going to turn his attention to domestic matters, including pushing through reforms he pledged to international lenders.
Li and Samaras talked about developing closer relations between their countries and business was taken of too, with some 19 deals worth 6.5 billion euros ($8.83 billion) with a Chinese delegation the three-day stay that saw advances in trade and investments.
The Chinese said they are interested in developing a new international airport near the Cretan port of Iraklio and are eying other state assets on the block as part of a long-delayed privatization drive insisted upon by the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) that put up 240 billion euros ($327 billion) in two bailouts.
Samaras, who accompanied Li on a tour of the Crete’s archaeological sites, told reporters that the Chinese premier’s visit to the island would be a big boost.
“The benefits for Crete will be very big and you will see them in the near future,” he said, anticipating more Chinese tourists, who already favor Crete.
Samaras said growing cooperation with China in a number of sectors “will contribute to growth in Greece,” he said is needed to offset four years of harsh austerity measures that caused record unemployment and deep poverty.
He’s hoping the Chinese will buy up state assets that have drawn little attention, even at rock bottom prices, which made the government far fall short of the privatization targets set by the Troika.
Beyond that, Samaras – with the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) nipping at his heels all the while, still has to sell more reforms to keep what’s left of the bailout money and hope the Troika will agree to debt restructuring.
First up is finishing so-called “prior actions” agreed with the Troika but never completed including the abolition of third-party levies, a reduction in pharmacies’ profit margins and the introduction of a new ethics code for ministers and MPs.
All that must be enforced by the end of next month if the country is to secure two installments of rescue loans worth 2 billion euros, about $2.71 billion.
The IMF said it’s anxious and noted in its latest report the country was suffering “adjustment fatigue” after trying to do so much so fast, and with social unrest – waning as it has been – still a concern for the coalition of Samaras’ New Democracy Conservatives and his partner the PASOK Socialists, who are starting to resist worker layoffs.
Samaras is also working with a revamped Cabinet he put in place quickly after New Democracy finished second in the European Parliament elections, but some of his ministers – particularly those from PASOK but also in his own party – are challenging some of the reforms.
New Education Minister Andreas Loverdos has called for the rehiring of a larger number of public sector workers who have been put in a so-called mobility scheme.
Interior Minister Argyris Dinopoulos has expressed understanding for local authority employees protesting the scheme and Health Minister Makis Voridis has called for a minimum guaranteed profit for pharmacists.
Meanwhile Alternate Agriculture Minister Paris Koukoulopoulos has suggested that the part-privatization of the Public Power Corporation (PPC) can be renegotiated.