Tuesday 26 September 2017

Greece's new leader vows 'big battle' on bailout terms

Daniel Howden in Athens

GREECE got its first elected prime minister in eight months yesterday as the conservative leader Antonis Samaras was sworn in at the head of a coalition government.

The three-party deal ended six weeks of rudderless chaos in Athens which threatened to push the country out of the single currency and deepen Europe's financial crisis.

Mr Samaras' New Democracy party, which won nearly 30 per cent of the vote last Sunday, will be joined by the socialists of Pasok and the Democratic Left, a smaller, newer party whose presence is thought vital to broadening the government's support.

The 61-year-old, whose insistence on elections in May left the country in political limbo, vowed to "work hard so that we can offer tangible hope to our people".

Vital

The line-up of the new cabinet was being agreed last night but the extended coalition talks mean that Greece will be represented by George Zanias, the Finance Minister of the previous government, at a vital meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Luxembourg today.

The Pasok leader Evangelos Venizelos said the talks will be "the first big battle" on the revision of the bailout agreement. The new government will be seeking concessions from its northern European creditors as it looks to shore up its support ahead of a fresh round of austerity measures.

All three parties broadly back Greece's pledges to bailout creditors for further austerity and reforms, although they have pledged to renegotiate some of the terms for the rescue loans.

New Democracy and Pasok are also looking for an extension of at least two years in the deadlines for implementing fresh cutbacks. Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis said that Greece should eventually "disengage" from the austerity commitments and "lift those measures that have literally bled society".

Greece has been dependent on the loans since May 2010. In return, it has imposed deep spending cuts, slashed salaries and pensions, and repeatedly hiked taxes.

Sunday's narrow vote in favour of parties that believe the country should honour the agreements under which it has received billions of pounds of emergency loans, came after concerted international pressure. The opponents of the austerity programme, like the radical left coalition Syriza, have vowed to fight the new administration.

Despite its 29-seat majority, the new government is not expected to last a full term. Dominated by the two traditional ruling parties, its main claim to a broad mandate comes from the Democratic Left, which remains ambivalent about adhering to the terms of Greece's €173bn bailout.

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Irish Independent

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