Greek conservative party head Antonis Samaras was sworn in as Prime Minister on Wednesday at the helm of a three-party coalition that will uphold the country’s international bailout commitments.
The move ends a protracted political crisis that had cast grave doubt over the country’s future in Europe’s joint currency and threatened to plunge Europe deeper into a financial crisis with global repercussions.
‘Tangible hope needed’
Mr. Samaras, an American-educated 61-year-old economist, was sworn in three days after his party won the second national elections in six weeks but without enough votes to form a government on its own.
“I will ask the new government that will be formed tomorrow to work hard so that we can offer tangible hope to our people,” Mr. Samaras told reporters as he left the presidential mansion.
Greek stocks rose marginally in response to the news, with Athens shares closing up 0.5 per cent, limiting earlier gains.
The new Prime Minister was to meet outgoing Finance Minister Giorgos Zanias, PASOK head Evangelos Venizelos and Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis on Wednesday evening.
All three parties broadly back Greece’s pledges to bailout creditors for further austerity and reforms, though 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 worth $18.42 billion.
Mr. Kouvelis went a bit further Wednesday, saying Greece should eventually “disengage” from the austerity commitments and “lift those measures that have literally bled society.”
Greece has been dependent on the loans from other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund since May 2010. In return, it has imposed deep spending cuts, slashed salaries and pensions, and repeatedly hiked taxes.
The measures have left the country struggling through a fifth year of recession, with unemployment spiralling to above 22 per cent and tens of thousands of businesses shutting down.
Earlier on Wednesday, hundreds of poverty-stricken Greeks queued in a central Athens park for free vegetables. Cretan farmers handed out some 2,700 10-kilo packages of produce, in cooperation with the capital’s municipal authorities.
Among the people lining up was Panayiota Sidera (31) from Athens. She said she has been unemployed for two-and-a-half years and her husband is also out of a job. The couple is living on a €250 monthly disability pension and rent from an apartment they own, and has a €540-a-month loan instalment to pay. “That’s my predicament,” she said, adding that the food handout “is helping people, and I’m grateful.”
“The government should have been doing this years ago,” she said.