ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s new prime minister was expected to be released from hospital Monday, after undergoing eye surgery over the weekend that will prevent him from traveling to a European Union summit in Brussels this week.
The meeting will be critical for Greece, coming just a week after its new coalition government was formed following months of political turmoil and two inconclusive national elections.
Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was recovering from an operation to repair a detached retina, and was to leave hospital sometime in the afternoon. Once he has been discharged, his doctors have said he will have to remain at home for several days, although he can accept visits.
The country’s incoming finance minister, Vassilis Rapanos, remained hospitalized, after being admitted Friday following a collapse hours before he was due to be sworn in to office. The hospital said over the weekend that his condition was improving, but it has given no details about what he is suffering from.
The ill-health that struck the top echelons of Greece’s new coalition government just two days after it was formed has led to the postponement of a visit to Athens on Monday by the heads of the county’s debt inspectors known as the Troika: the European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF.
“First, our concern is for the health of the prime minister and finance minister,” European Commission spokesman Amadeu Altafaj Tardio said in Brussels. “They have a very long road ahead.”
He said the Troika would head to Greece “as soon as possible. Both sides are interested in carrying out this assessment as soon as possible.”
Samaras has appointed Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos to lead the Greek delegation at the June 28-29 summit.
Samaras’ government, comprised of his New Democracy conservatives, their long-time socialist rivals PASOK and the small Democratic Left party, issued a policy statement on Saturday outlining changes it would like to make to the terms of its international bailout agreement with other EU countries and the International Monetary Fund. The changes include repealing certain tax hikes, freezing public sector layoffs and extending by two years the mid-2014 deadline for tough austerity measures.
But the government will still have to find other ways to make savings, as it tries to reform its economy and continue receiving funds from its rescue loans. And whether the government can deliver on its pledges to renegotiate some terms of the bailout will depend on how they are viewed by Greece’s international creditors.
Germany, the largest single contributor, has repeatedly said Athens must stick to delivering on the spending cuts it has promised in return for billions of euros (dollars) in rescue loans. Measures taken so far include slashing public spending, cutting salaries and pensions and increasing taxes across the board.
Speaking in Luxembourg on the sidelines of a meeting of EU foreign ministers Monday, Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the Troika must now determine how much time was lost with the Greek elections.
“But one thing is clear,” he said, according to a transcript of his comments provided by the German Foreign Ministry. “We cannot allow everything to be negotiated again. We can also not allow discounts to be granted. What has been decided upon stands. That the election campaigns have cost time is obvious. That’s the situation and we have to deal with it. But the fact remains that the agreements must be implemented.”
Altafaj Tardio also stressed that “Greece has to face its financial obligations,” adding that before any further funds can be disbursed, “there has to be a thorough analysis.”
“It’s no secret that there have been delays in several areas of implementation,” he said. Once the Troika does arrive in Athens, its review will figure out “how we can get Greece back on track.”
The latest figures released by the finance ministry Monday showed that the budget deficit for the first five months of the year was better than expected, standing at €10.87 billion ($13.63 billion) instead of the target of €12.89 ($16.17) on a modified cash basis.
Revenue, however, was below target with the state budget net revenue standing at €19.666 billion, €926 million short of the targeted €20.592 billion, due in part to lower domestic consumer demand and lower tax revenues.
The ministry said that “this revenue shortfall was more than compensated for by the savings in State Budget expenditures for the first five months of 2012.”
In preparation for the summit, Avramopoulos met on Monday with outgoing Finance Minister Giorgos Zanias — who still holds the official title as Rapanos has not been officially sworn in — Development Minister Costis Hatzidakis, Deputy Development Minister Notis Mitarakis and Alternative Finance Minister Christos Staikouras, as well as with the government spokesman.
Separately, Samaras’ office said the prime minister would speak by phone Monday evening with US President Barack Obama.
David Rising in Berlin and Toby Sterling in Brussels contributed.
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