Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Saturday appealed for national unity, while addressing an event to mark the 40th anniversary since the founding of the New Democracy party at the Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens. He outlined the next steps for the country’s imminent exit from the crisis and his vision for Greece in the “post-memorandum era”.
Quoting ND founder Constantine Karamanlis, Samaras called for “wisdom, patriotism and national unity”.
He stressed the sacrifices of the Greek people said the country’s economy would soon be able to resume positive rates of growth, exiting the crisis without the need for new bailout loans.
Referring to planned tax cuts to be included in the draft budget, he said these would include a 30 pct reduction in the ‘solidarity contribution’, a 30 pct reduction in VAT on heating oil. He also pointed to an increase in the number of installments for paying off public sector debts, accompanied by lower fines for those that made a debt settlement arrangement.
“We are proceeding with settlements for ‘bad’ loans, generous settlements. We can do this because public finances are now in order. We are preparing to cut taxes. Officers, policemen, doctors must be paid in accordance to merit. This can only be done if we have surpluses, not on borrowed money. My aim is for taxes to be reduced by 33 pct for individuals and 15 pct for businesses,” he said.
Samaras then referred to staff evaluations in the public sector, stressing that these will have to go ahead and that those with fake qualifications must be weeded out.
The prime minister attacked MPs and even ministers within the party that had not supported the national effort and “played personal games” by trying to ‘distance’ themselves from unpopular policies. He also indirectly attack main opposition SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, referring to those that “put on an actor’s smile, a Christian’s cross and European clothing to put on a bad-taste performance,” which he said would prove costly for Greece.
Samaras emphasised that Greece was now on the verge of exiting the crisis and that ND would not allow the results of the country’s sacrifices to “become the cheap merchandise” of those wishing to put the good of the country at the service of the interests of their political party.
“We offer the assurance that Greece will soon be able and with dignity to settle its own affairs. At its side, Greece will have Europe but also the ally beyond the Atlantic. Our economy can and will soon find the rhythms of self-propelled economic growth,” he underlined.
“Two years ago, I promised two things: not to let Greece leave the euro and to extricate the country from the crisis and the memorandums as soon as possible. We did what we said, we achieved primary surpluses, we essayed forth into the markets and now, at the end of 2014, will will exit the memorandums. The country is regaining its dignity,” he added.
Samaras underlined, however, that Greece was not exiting the memorandum in order to go back to past mistakes.
“No, we are exiting in order to create a new Greece that is free, has dignity and rewards worth – a Greece for those that are worthy, not cronies, for the proud and decent, not the crafty,” he said, adding that this was something that ND “still owed” to the country. “At that time we succeeded in restoring democracy and getting Greece into Europe, but we did not manage to root out populism and make Greece Europe.”
The current period marked a turning point, Samaras stressed, especially in terms of unemployment. He pointed to strong signs that this was finally starting fall and said that hundreds of thousands of jobs were forecast each year in the coming years. “The forecast is for 0.6 pct this year, 2.6 pct next year, then 3.9 pct. More than 300,000 jobs are forecast. But we must eradicate bureaucracy and give banks liquidity,” he said.
It was crucial to continue reforms, the prime minister added, not because this was demanded by the country’s creditors but because Greeks owed it to themselves. He noted that the country had outstripped 111 countries in the international competitiveness rankings in two years and said it would soon be in the top 10, guaranteeing full employment.
“We have covered the greater part of the distance,” he said, stressing that entrepreneurship and investments were no longer “suspect” in the country and promising support for small and medium-sized businesses, as well as Greece’s farmers, through fewer taxes and more facilities for their activity.
Among others, he pledged to exploit the country’s resources in all areas, including its energy reserves and mineral deposits, and stressed that the reorganisation of the country’s economy had begun, with hundreds of new start-ups created by people without any help, who opened up markets and made money.
“These are the harbingers of the new Greece,” he stressed, noting that the country would shed the mistakes of the past and not go back to sharing out money it did not have, while urging vigilance against the voices of populism.
In this context, he indirectly attacked the main opposition for “deliberately cultivating anxiety” through the media while stressing that the Greek people now understood that the country must not “relapse” in past vices.
“This gives us the strength to face the sirens of populism. The foundation stone of the new Greece will be responsibility, legality and truth. It is the responsibility of all politicians, the media but also the citizens. The slogan ‘there is money’ finds mimics even today,” he stressed.
The prime minister then pointed to recent successes against terrorism and in fighting illegal migration, noting that the government had been instrumental in making this a priority for the EU, as well. He also referred to plans for a revision of the Constitution, saying that the first phase will have been completed by June 2016 and completed in the next Parliament. Among the planned changes, he cited a new election process for the president of Greece so that it would not become the object of political games and opening the way for private universities, a Constitutional court and further separation of powers.
The event kicked off with a recorded message by the president-elect of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and was attended by the former Greek premiers Costas Karamanlis, Constantine Mitsotakis, ministers and MPs of the party, as well as key members of the party.