BRUSSELS (AMNA - M. Aroni) Emerging from the European Union summit held here on Friday, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras signalled that his government was already rolling up its sleeves and getting down to work, since there was not a minute to spare.
"One marathon has already ended successfully and the next begins right now," Samaras stressed, adding that this was not the time to be triumphant. "For me and the government, the day after has already begun," he said.
The prime minister said that immediately upon leaving the European Council, he is to have a meeting with European Commission Vice-president and Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia, accompanied by Greek Development, Competitiveness, Infrastructure, Transport and Networks Minister Kostis Hatzidakis.
Samaras also announced a meeting scheduled to take place at his offices on Monday morning with the heads of major multinational firms operating in Greece, in order to explore ways in which they might expand their activities and make new investments in the country.
"Creating new jobs is a major requirement," the prime minister emphasised, adding that the government's goal was to eliminate bureaucracy.
Talking to reporters, the prime minister conveyed his impression that the international community now considered that Greece had "turned over a new leaf". At the same time, he stressed that this was did not warrant triumphant rhetoric since "laurels smell nice but quickly wither".
Samaras noted that Greece now had to face the uphill struggle of recovery while stressing his conviction that the new start would be successful and that the road, while long, was now safe and secure.
Asked to comment on recent statements made by trade union leaders with the local authority staff union federation POE-OTA, the Greek premier emphasised that the pampered professional groups of the past were attempting to "terrorise" society because they were losing their privileges. "I am certain that they will lose them. We move on," the premier added.
In a statement late Thursday, the prime minister said that the Eurogroup's decision to approve 49.1 billion euro in financial aid for Greece marked the end of a "long and difficult period of anxiety in Greece, stopping rumours of the country's exit from the euro."
In a press conference held in Brussels, he said that Greece had gained a great opportunity to emerge from the crisis standing and stronger, rather than isolated and on its knees.
"The money disbursed will be a vindication and a starting point," he told reporters, especially for the three parties in the governing coalition that had put their faith in the country's recovery rather than its destruction, as well as its place in Europe.
Samaras thanked the leaders of the two other parties in the coalition, PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and Democratic Left (DIMAR) leader Fotis Kouvelis, as well as their MPs and those of his own New Democracy party, stressing that the three coalition partners had "fought and won their battles together".
"We have avoided the cliff," Samaras said, adding that Greeks had every reason to be optimistic.
The Greek premier stressed that no one had dared predict that Greece would finally receive financial aid from the EU and IMF amounting to approximately 52.5 billion euro, of which roughly 40 billion euro would remain in Greece while the remaining 11 billion euro would go toward a bond buyback to reduce debt by 20 billion euro.
He stressed that in the coming months, the Greek state would pay off all its outstanding debts to Greek citizens, noting that the Greek state currently owed sums in excess of nine billion euro.
Regarding the big tranche of 34.3 billion euro due to be disbursed in the next few days, Samaras said that this would be used to recapitalise the banks, restore liquidity to the Greek economy and to boost businesses and households. At the same time, he emphasised efforts to attract new investments and create new jobs.
"Unemployment will fall. This is always a key requirement," he promised.
Replying to the government's critics within Greece and those predicting that Greece would be ousted from the eurozone without a fight, Samaras said they were still unable to believe that Greece had managed to secure loans on the best possible terms for any country in a similar crisis and more cheaply than most European countries.
He also underlined his conviction that there were real prospects and hope for growth but also the need for unity.
"Only united can we succeed," he emphasised, saying that Greece had restored its credibility abroad but must now regain its self-confidence and sense of dignity at home.
Finance minister: 'Today is the reward of many months of effort'
Speaking after the prime minister, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said that the Eurogroup's decision was the reward of efforts lasting many months and a great respite for the country.
"In my book, the journey starts today but without the borders of uncertainty any longer," he said.
The finance minister explained that the Eurogroup had approved the disbursement of 49.1 billion euro to Greece from the EFSF, to which the International Monetary Fund (IMF) would add another 3.4 billion euro, so that the total paid to Greece by March will be approximately 52.5 billion euro. The lion's share of this money would be a 34.3 billion euro tranche to be disbursed next week, of which 16 billion euro would go toward the recapitalisation and restructuring of Greek banks, seven billion euro would go toward the budget and covering outstanding state debts and 11.3 billion euro would cover the cost of a Greek bond buyback.
Regarding the need for reforms in Greece, Stournaras pointed out that Greece had so far covered an "essential requirement" for remaining in the euro but must now also meet the "requirement of adequacy" by implementing the measures passed by the Greek Parliament. Among others, he pointed out that the Eurogroup had especially emphasised the need to push through comprehensive tax reforms and to keep up the pace of structural reforms, as well as making progress on privatisations, improving absorption of National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) funds and restoring liquidity to the banking system.
"Greece has gained time, has won an opportunity to carry out reforms at a comfortable pace and not with a knife at its throat," the finance minister said.