Jean-Claude Juncker’s recent interference in Greek politics ahead of the crucial presidential vote sparked reactions in Athens and Brussels. EurActiv Greece reports.
Ahead of the first round of the presidential elections in Greece, due to take place today (17 December), EU and Greek officials spoke to EurActiv Greece in Strasbourg, concerning the political future of the debt-ridden country, as well as the much-discussed “interference” of Juncker in Greek politics.
Under pressure from international lenders, Greek PM Antonis Samaras, and coalition partner Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) decided to accelerate the move to presidential elections for political reasons.
The new president will be elected by the Greek MPs in up to three consecutive voting processes. If the necessary number of votes is not gathered, then the country will be led to snap parliamentary elections.
In Greece, there is a general feeling that international lenders are trying to impose their preferences in Greek politics, further damaging an already fragile political environment.
After the announcement of the election, and in an unprecedented move, Jean-Claude Juncker warned Greek voters against electing “extreme forces”, adding that he would prefer “known faces” in power.
This statement provoked strong reactions in Athens and Brussels. A high-ranking EPP source told EurActiv Greece that Juncker’s interference “did not have the expected results”.
The reactions forced Juncker to back off and specify yesterday (16 December) that he was only referring to “extreme right parties”, like the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn.
Weber: Greek PM tries hard
Asked to comment on the political situation in Greece, EPP chairman Manfred Weber, told EurActiv Greece that Antonis Samaras is trying hard “with visible results” to bring Greece back on the track of development, agreeing with the decision to accelerate the Greek president election, normally due to take place in February.
“His government stabilised the economy and he knows what the best for his country is. He is therefore very well aware that political uncertainty must end,” Weber noted, in an effort to tone down Juncker’s hard rhetoric on the issue.
“It is in the hands of the decision makers in Parliament to make their choice.”
In the same line, Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici explained during a visit to Athens that the EU executive “talks with all governments”, clarifying though that it would prefer to deal with those committed to “preserving the integrity of the eurozone and to reforms”.
“Greek PM is desperate”
Gabriele Zimmer, president of GUE/NGL political group, where Syriza is affiliated, ironically welcomed Samara’s decision to proceed to elections as “this makes it probable to have new Governmental elections soon in which Syriza could take over Government, give voice back to the Greek people and stop their suffering”.
She said the decision taken in agreement with Troika showed his “desperation” as well as his intention to impose new and harder measures to the Greek population.
“The elites which drove Greece into that situation should hand over power to dissolve the current deadlock,” she underlined.
EU Parliament vice-president and Syriza MEP Dimitris Papadimoulis, in an interview with EurActiv Greece expressed his concerns about Juncker’s involvement in Greek politics.
“I am surprised by Juncker’s interference in Greece’s internal affairs. He would have resigned within 24 hours if he had made such statements ahead of the elections in Germany of in the UK”, he noted.
“Our country should not permit any kind of political interventions especially this crucial period of time”, told EurActiv Greece socialist MEP Eva Kaili, adding though that Juncker has been dealing with the Greek crisis for years and therefore he feels he has the green light to express his opinion.
“But this should not be perceived as an indication”, she concluded.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has brought forward a presidential election by two months to end political uncertainty but faces an early parliamentary election.
Current Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis warned in recent comments that the country faces financial trouble after February if it fails to elect a president, prompting the opposition Syriza party to accuse the government of blackmail to win support.
Greece would face funding problems if a snap election fails to produce a government that can wrap up a pending bailout review due to unlock €7 billion in aid, Hardouvelis said.
Greece needs to repay IMF loans worth about €2.8 billion by the end of March. Its next major funding hurdle comes in July and August when it has to repay over €5 billion in maturing debt.
- 17 December: Vote for President begins in Parliament, last round to be held on 29 December.