Caretaker prime minister opens talks with Greek party leaders

Greece’s newly installed caretaker prime minister began talks with party leaders ahead of this week’s EU summit that’s expected to focus on ways of kick-starting economic growth across the continent.

Panagiotis Pikrammenos, a senior judge who has no power to make any binding decisions, is holding successive meetings with all party leaders as campaigning gets under way for the country’s crucial June 17 elections.

The elections are seen as a choice on whether debt-stricken Greece stays in the euro. A May 6 poll produced no government and triggered a political crisis.

The vote was split between parties insisting the country lives up to its austerity pledges and continues to receive outside assistance to stave off bankruptcy, and those that want to revoke or revise them because they are too punishing.

Antonis Samaras, leader of the centre-right New Democracy party, laid out the hope that the 17-country eurozone may soon back jointly issued bonds, despite another rejection by Germany. So-called eurobonds could be used to fund growth projects and spread risk around the eurozone. Germany has been unwilling to push the idea of eurobonds because they would likely raise its borrowing costs.

“Now that Europe is changing and is adopting growth, Greece must benefit,” Mr Samaras said after talks with Mr Pikrammenos. “But to benefit, we have to stay inside the euro and win measures that will allow our economy to grow quickly and relieve Greek society.”

A raft of opinion polls over the weekend suggested the new elections will be tightly contested, with New Democracy and the Radical Left Coalition, or Syriza, fighting for first place. Coming top is crucial in Greek elections because the winning party gets a 50-seat top-up in the 300-member parliament that could be crucial in the formation of the next government.

Evangelos Venizelos, the leader of the centre-left PASOK party that won the 2009 election in a landslide, said that he urged Mr Pikrammenos to persuade Greece’s EU partners to release funds earmarked for large-scale, growth-oriented projects.

“The European Commission’s mindset has to change,” Mr Venizelos told reporters. “We constantly come up against bureaucratic and legal obstacles.”

Mr Venizelos said he backs the idea of eurobonds, as long as they offer better repayment terms for Greece.

He also urged that half of the €50bn earmarked to prop up ailing Greek banks be released immediately to ease the pressure on the banking system. Since the election, there have been large-scale withdrawals from Greek banks.


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