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Main opposition New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras on Thursday outlined his party’s programme at an event dubbed “Zappeion II” to jump-start the ailing Greek economy, based what he said were seven basic steps.
Speaking before a packed hall of the party’s highest ranking deputies and cadres, and with the address carried on several national television stations, Samaras warned that the Greece’s debt was a “paralysing” factor and dangerous. Describing his proposal as a pact of “confidence and dignity” between the people and the government, Samaras paid homage to the founder of the ND party Constantine Karamanlis and said that the Greek economy can and needs to be restarted. Greece can emerge from the crisis and become better, without returning to “dependent prosperity”, Samaras said, and urged that the “ghosts of populism and fatalism” be finally laid to rest.
The main opposition leader reiterated charges that the government of PASOK had pre-decided the recourse to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), while he criticised the government for not negotiating the terms of the Memorandum. At this point he noted that his refusal to agree and endorse his party members to vote for the Memorandum has now been justified by the fact that it has failed on all levels.
He recommended introduction of a common 15 percent tax rate for all enterprises and a 15 percent tax on dividends (from 25 percent currently). The highest tax rate would fall to 40 percent, from 45 percent currently, and would not exceed 30 percent in a period of three years, he said.
He added that Value Added Tax (VAT) will be cut to 19 percent (from 23 percent); to 9.0 percent from 13 percent and for tourism-related enterprises the VAT rate would be set at a low 4.5 percent.
Samaras said his plans calls for the special fuel consumption tax to be abolished in two years. He also recommended cutting employers’ social insurance contributions by 25 percent, along with imposing very strict sanctions for informal labour and gradually abolishing taxes for third parties.
The ND leader emphasised what he called for the abolition of the obligation of reporting the financial means in the purchase of residences; a freeze on real estate objective value taxes and a re-examination of all property statements of office-holders who have served as ministers from 1974 onwards.
“We are Greeks, we are the seeds that never die”
The proposals include:
- introduce a simplified and stable tax system, along with strict sanctions for tax-evaders.
- legalising all illegal buildings and strictly prohibiting any further illegal building activity.
- repayment of all state debt to individuals and enterprises.
- acquiring a pledge by domestic banks to distribute 20-30 percent of state guarantees to the real economy. (Greek banks have received 63 billion euros so far in guarantees and the government recently added another 30 billion euros in state support.)
Additionally, Samaras cited the subsidization of first home purchases by two percentage points, with the aim to restart building activity, as well as improving a residential energy upgrading programme; raising absorption of Community funds and boosting the public investment programme.
All these measures, according to him, would raise some 8.0 billion euros in the first two years.
Samaras said action should be taken to overturn what he called were the unfair cuts made to low-pension earners while he also rallied that financial support be restored to families with more than three children.
Samaras said that the aforementioned steps are expected to cut the Greece’s fiscal deficit by 2.0 percent, while he added that other measures were also needed in order to slash public overspending such as those generated by state hospital costs, the cutting of benefits to higher income earners in public sector enterprises, and he noted that public sector job hirings freeze for at least three years (to be followed by one hiring for five retirements.)
On a political note, Samaras strongly criticised the ruling PASOK government for introducing a new cycle of overspending as well as of increasing what he termed the “party-affiliated state” –or the voter client system-, while he pledged that implementation of New Democracy’s programme would result in a decrease of the fiscal deficit to 1.0 percent of GDP in only three years time.
He also said institutional measures would be implemented so that the program acquires the proper support, with priority being placed on the combating of bureaucracy.
Turning to foreign issues, Samaras said that once in power he would declare the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), something, that he said, PASOK, was “afraid of doing”.
New Democracy has recommended making a better management of the state’s real estate property and has said that such a plan needed time to be implemented, adding to this Samaras said, that his party was not opposed to the sale of individual property, while he mentioned that there be an exploitation of the Church’s real estate as well. “Exploiting the state’s property means convincing investors. Without restarting the economy there cannot be an exploitation of the property, it will be a sell-off,” he said.
On this note he said that his party supports the privatisation scheme, but stressed that the current market value of all public sector enterprises was below 6.0 billion Euros. “If the government begins selling equities it will further drop prices,” he said, adding it was a mistake to sell a 17 percent share in the Public Power Corp (DEH). “We will proceed with a privatisation of DEH with a contemporary method by opening up the energy market first. Energy distribution and transport networks will remain under state control and we will seek a strategic investor for parts of DEH.”
Samaras added that the state would also seek strategic investors for other public sector enterprises, while he opposed plans to sell OPAP, the state-run betting and lottery pools.
On the subject of labour issues, Samaras also strongly criticised the role of labour unions in the country, particularly those representing employees in public sector enterprises.
in reference to the 110-billion-euros bailout, Samaras said that “we must change the terms of the Memorandum” adding that some people are betting on Greece’s bankruptcy. “Greece cannot afford any more instability in a sensitive region,” he said, while he reiterated that Ireland and Portugal achieved better terms after negotiating with the troika (IMF and EU), something that the government of George Papandreou failed to do. “I will negotiate the terms of restarting the economy,” Samaras said and noted that he will negotiate any idea offering relief to the debt problem. Along these lines, he again presented a proposal for a Eurobond and the possibility of buying state debt in the secondary bond market. “Any extension of the repayment period is not painless and any rescheduling of the debt needs a restart of the economy,” he added.
He then accused that prime minister and his government of not having any plan. “The new memorandum is discussed because the first memorandum failed … I took the risk of resisting to the memorandum when many were saying it was the only way, and I expressed our views abroad. Our criticism was justified and today we recommend a restart,” the ND leader said, while he said it would be a “crime” to offer his consensus to a mistake.
Finally, he said his party was ready for snap elections if the government was to decide such a move.
Following the presentation government spokesman Yiorgos Petalotis tried to convince reporters that many of the ND leader’s proposals have already been implemented by the government while others are unrealistic or need further processing. And he once again issued an invitation for consensus, stressing that it is a “standing invitation to ND which has its share of responsibility for the state the country is in”.