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Samaras: Greece and EU are leaving crisis behind them

Barroso says euros existential crisis is over

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European Commission President Barroso says Greece will exit the crisis in 2014 and this will strengthen the trust of the other EU countries

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras stands next to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso during the handover ceremony for the six-month rotation of Greece's EU Presidency at the Zappeio Hall, Athens, 8 January 2014 (Photo: Reuters) Prime Minister Antonis Samaras stands next to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso during the handover ceremony for the six-month rotation of Greece's EU Presidency at the Zappeio Hall, Athens, 8 January 2014 (Photo: Reuters) Greece and Europe are leaving the crisis behind them, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said on Wednesday, ahead of the official opening ceremony on Wednesday for Greece's six-month stint at the helm of the European presidency.

"Greece is leaving the crisis behind it, following tremendous sacrifices. Europe is leaving the crisis behind it," Samaras told the domestic and international press at the Zappeio hall, alongside European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

While the press conference was being held, police fired tear gas against leftist demonstrators in central Athens, who had organised an alternative press conference despite a police ban on all gatherings in the city centre. 

Samaras added that Greece aims to use its presidency to achieve a more positive contact between European citizens with the EU.

"Greece, through its presidency, hopes to bring the European citizen closer to the European Union, and for this reason the guiding principles will include dealing with vital problems, economic revival, fighting unemployment - which is our greatest issue currently - and the strengthening of cohesion - especially social cohesion - both internal and external," Samaras said, adding that "the goal is to safeguard the single currency, the euro."

For his part, Barroso expressed his view that Greece is an "experienced pilot" and is determined to succeed in what is its 5th  time to hold the presidency.

"Greece is very well prepared and is determined to succeed," he added, expressing the EU's full support.

He also said he was confident that this year will be better than the previous ones in economic terms.

"This year we are exiting the recession, and I believe that Greece will also exit the recession," Barroso said, noting that "the fact we are now in Athens to celebrate the European presidency proves that forecasts that Greece would exit the euro were wrong. The euro's existential crisis is over, and we are exiting the crisis."

Referring to Greece, Barroso said that it will exit the crisis in 2014 and this will strengthen the trust of the other EU countries. The austerity programmes are succeeding and the efforts made so far should not be wasted.

"In a country like Greece, there are difficulties and we know that what we are seeing are immediately experienced by the average citizen," he said, adding, "We want to pay tribute to the Greek citizens, for the sacrifices they have made, for their courage and for their efforts."

Barroso also referred to the €1bn tranche of bail-out loans that was approved in December, saying that Greece still faces many problems and needs to speed up reforms and improve privatisations.

He acknowledged there is a problem with the funding of small and medium-sized companies, pointing out, though, that Greece is one of the top performers in absorbing EU funds.

Attack

Replying to a question from the Financial Times' journalist Peter Spiegel, Samaras also lashed out at main opposition Syriza, claiming the lefist party supported ideas that were "anti-European, anti-western and anti-Nato".

Samaras said that in the elections for the European Parliament in May, "voters must decide whether they want or do not want Europe. There is the eurosceptic view but I don't agree. Syriza and its leader chose not to come to this ceremony. Such ideas are anti-European, anti-western and anti-Nato.

According to Newton's third law, some voters would use the elections to express their anger, Samaras continued, but he warned that "parties like Golden Dawn have nothing to do with democracy".

He said he understood that people were angry, but he was also "confident that they will vote for the love of their country and their children".

Arrest

While the press conference was taking place, there were scuffles in central Athens, where extraparliamentary leftist parties had organised a protest against Greece's presidency of the European Union. 

""They are trying to ban opposition, protest and struggle against their barbaric policies; seeking to abolish the democratic freedoms and rights that our people won through struggle and blood," the Antcapitalist Left Front (Antarsya) party said in a statement announcing the protest.

Police fired tear gas to force the protesters away from the square in front of Athens University towards Omonia and and made at least one arrest, that of Pavlos Antonopoulos, a member of the executive committees of the civil servants union Adedy and of Antarsya.

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