EPP summit fails to discipline Greek opposition on austerity

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Antonis Samaras, the leader of Greece's main opposition party, the centre-right 'New Democracy', said yesterday (23 June) that he remained opposed to backing the country's austerity plan, seen as crucial for bailing out Greece and saving the euro.

Despite pressure from the centre-right political family (European People's Party), which includes many of the European Union's top leaders, Samaras said he would not back the plan, which is expected to be submitted to parliament on 28 June.

Apparently unimpressed with the pressure being heaped on his country by several heads of state and government, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, Samaras stood firm in his position that a different economic policy is needed to get Greece out of its debt crisis.

Greece needs 12 billion euros in European and IMF aid to avoid defaulting on its debt mountain in mid-July, which could spread contagion across the euro currency area and send shock waves around the world economy.

The tranche will be disbursed on the condition that the Greek parliament backs next week a wide-ranging austerity plan. It is still uncertain whether the austerity plan will pass in parliament.

According to Greek agency ANA, Samaras set out a different approach to the mass privatisations to be conducted in his country, adding that he disagreed with a policy mixture that had already led to deep and prolonged recession, which he said had paralysed the economy and offset existing efforts to restructure Greece's debt.

Samaras regretted that "most of the European leaders remained steadfast in their positions" but made clear that his party would not vote for the austerity package, dubbed the 'Medium-term Programme'.

The EU's leverage in the cases of Portugal and Greece appears to be very different.

Recently, Barroso was instrumental in putting in place a reform package in his native Portugal and steering the political process towards snap elections which installed Pedro Passos Coelho, leader of the centre-right PSD party, as prime minister. Barroso has himself chaired the PSF party in the past.

On his first Brussels visit in his new capacity, Passos Coelho said yesterday that his country "will not be another Greece," apparently referring to the political situation in his country, which is seen as more manageable.

The European People's Party pre-summit meeting took place at the Académie Royale de Belgique, in Brussels. It was attended by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek, all of which represent the major political family in the EU assembly.

At present, 15 out of 27 countries are led by EPP heads of state or government. Present at the summit were Viktor Orbán (Hungary - EU Council Presidency), Angela Merkel (Germany), François Fillon (France), Traian Basescu (Romania), Emil Boc (Romania), Fredrik Reinfeldt (Sweden), Yves Leterme (Belgium), Enda Kenny (Ireland), Donald Tusk (Poland), Silvio Berlusconi (Italy), Valdis Dombrovskis (Latvia), Boyko Borissov (Bulgaria), Lawrence Gonzi (Malta), Iveta Radi?ová (Slovakia), Jyrki Katainen (Finland), and Pedro Passos Coelho (Portugal).

Also present were the EPP-affilated party leaders in opposition or as junior coalition parties.

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