PM, Bar­roso fo­cus on pos­i­tive as EU ba­ton is passed

SYRIZA leader Tsipras boy­cotts cer­e­mony

Kathimerini English - - Front Page -

Prime Min­is­ter An­to­nis Sa­ma­ras and Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Jose Manuel Bar­roso yes­ter­day both sought to strike an up­beat note at an of­fi­cial cer­e­mony for Greece’s as­sump­tion of the Euro­pean Union’s ro­tat­ing six-month pres­i­dency, em­pha­siz­ing the coun­try’s progress in over­haul­ing its prob­lem­atic econ­omy and play­ing down the fragility of Sa­ma­ras’s gov­ern­ment.

Ad­dress­ing a joint press con­fer­ence with Bar­roso, Sa­ma­ras de­clared that “Greece, af­ter great sac­ri­fices, is leav­ing the cri­sis be­hind it.” Apart from eco­nomic re­cov­ery, he said Athens would fo­cus dur­ing the pres­i­dency on bat­tling un­em­ploy­ment and tack­ling se­cu­rity is­sues, in­clud­ing the prob­lem of unchecked im­mi­gra­tion.

Sa­ma­ras re­ferred to forth­com­ing Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tions in May as an im­por­tant land­mark. “Vot­ers will choose whether they want Europe or not,” Sa­ma­ras said in re­sponse to ques­tions about the sta­bil­ity of his gov­ern­ment and the pos­si­bil­ity of losses at the polls.

Bar­roso, for his part, ac­knowl­edged the risk of a rise in “ex­trem­ism and pop­ulism” due to cit­i­zens protest­ing aus­ter­ity but said, “I don’t ex­pect th­ese forces to win.”

The EC chief urged the Greek gov­ern­ment, and peo­ple, to stick to re­forms that have been pledged in re­turn for con­tin­ued res­cue fund­ing from the coun­try’s for­eign cred­i­tors – the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, Euro­pean Cen­tral Bank and In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund. “This is not the time to slow down the pace of re­forms,” he said. “My point is very clear: Pro­grams work, so we should not waste the ef­forts so far.”

He stressed that Greece was ex­pected to emerge from its re­ces­sion this year and noted that early talk of a “Grexit” had slowed re­cov­ery.

Bar­roso also lauded Greece’s role in its pre­vi­ous four EU pres­i­den­cies, not­ing that it had played a piv­otal

(r) speaks dur­ing a press con­fer­ence with Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Jose Manuel Bar­roso be­fore the cer­e­mony for Greece’s as­sump­tion of the EU pres­i­dency at Zappeion Hall in Athens yes­ter­day. role in pur­su­ing EU en­large­ment and boost­ing in­sti­tu­tions.

Con­spic­u­ous by his ab­sence at the of­fi­cial as­sump­tion cer­e­mony at the Athens Con­cert Hall was left­ist SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras. He boy­cotted the event in protest at the gov­ern­ment’s agenda for the pres­i­dency, which the left­ists deem puts in­suf­fi­cient fo­cus on boost­ing growth and curb­ing un­em­ploy­ment. Tsipras was also said to be an­gered by the post- pone­ment of a sched­uled visit to Athens this week by mem­bers of a Euro­pean Par­lia­ment com­mit­tee who are prob­ing the role and ac­tiv­i­ties of the troika.

At the press con­fer­ence, Sa­ma­ras took the op­por­tu­nity to de­nounce Tsipras and SYRIZA as “anti-Euro­pean and anti-Western.”

In a re­lated de­vel­op­ment yes­ter­day, the head of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment’s Pro­gres­sive Al­liance of So­cial­ists and Democrats, Hannes Swo­boda, called for the “abo­li­tion” of Greece’s so­called troika of for­eign lenders, whose en­voys are due to re­turn to Athens next week, ac­cus­ing them of im­pos­ing “ruth­less aus­ter­ity” on Greeks.

Fears of protests dis­rupt­ing the fes­tiv­i­ties yes­ter­day were not re­al­ized as se­cu­rity was tight­ened to pro­tect dozens of for­eign visi­tors. A small protest by left­ists out­side Athens Univer­sity re­sulted in mi­nor scuffles.

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