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31/07/2016

European Commission officially backs government candidate in Greek elections

Elections

European Commission officially backs government candidate in Greek elections

Stavros Dimas

[Greenweek/flickr]

In an unprecedented move, the new Commission on Wednesday (10 December) decided to formally back a political candidate running for president in Greece, and applauded the Greek government for calling snap elections. 

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Tuesday (9 décembre) moved forward the start of the presidential vote by two months to next week.

He also confirmed that former EU Environment Commissioner, Stavros Dimas, had been chosen as the Greek government’s candidate for president. 

>> Read: Greece prepares for snap elections

In Brussels, the European Commission took the unprecedented step of formally endorsing Dimas.

Annika Breidthardt, a Commission spokesperson, said that the EU executive had taken note of the decision by the Greek government to advance the presidential elections, where three rounds are foreseen.

“This is a democratic decision of the Greek authorities and of the Prime Minister Samaras,” Breidthardt told the Commission’s daily press briefing on Wednesday (10 December).

“The decision can help to remove uncertainties around financial markets. It is a strong signal to Europe that Prime Minister Samaras has decided to put forward his candidate for president, Stavros Dimas, a former commissioner and a convinced European. The choice is now in the hands of the Greek Parliament and people,” Breidthardt said.

The EU’s executive usually stays away from trying to promote candidates, political parties and influencing national elections. But the sudden backing of Dimas could be a sign of Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s intentions of leading a more political European Commission. 

>> Read: Greek PM names former EU commissioner as presidential nominee 

Breidthardt later added that she does not believe that there has been a change in the Commission’s policies, “but at this point we want to make this statement.”

The decision by the Greek government to call for a presidential election came after eurozone finance ministers on Monday (8 December) agreed a request by Athens to extend its bailout programme by only two months. The decision came as a boost for Prime Minister Samaras who has been pushing for an early exit from the programme which is deeply unpopular in Greece.

Parliament’s vote to select a new president, the first round of which will be held on 17 December instead of 15 February as previously scheduled, could trigger early elections if Samaras fails to get his candidate for president elected.

Background

Greece exited a painful six-year recession this year and has tapped bond markets twice after a four-year exile, but investors have begun to fear a return to the days of crisis as the presidential vote looms. On 8 December, eurozone ministers decided to grant Greece a two-month extension to its bailout rather than settle for a six-month extension that Athens objected to, was a boost, giving the country just enough time to wrap up a delayed bailout review before it exits the programme for good.

Opinion polls show the leftist Syriza party would win if early elections were held right now.

Timeline

  • 17 Dec.: First round of presidential elections in Greece.