ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece’s new prime minister and incoming finance minister, who have been ill, will miss this week’s EU summit when Athens will propose easing the terms of its bailout and international lenders have had to postpone a first meeting with the team.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras underwent eye surgery on Saturday and Vassilis Rapanos is in hospital after suffering from nausea, intense abdominal pains and dizziness on Friday before he could be sworn in as finance minister.
Instead, the foreign minister and outgoing finance minister will attend the June 28-29 meeting to ask for the terms of the 130 billion euro ($162.96 billion) bailout to be loosened.
The unexpected turn of events forced the postponement of a visit to Athens on Monday by officials from Greece’s “troika” of lenders - the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.
The officials had been expected to meet Samaras and Rapanos and set a later date for a review of Greece’s implementation of reforms required under the program.
An IMF spokeswoman confirmed the Fund’s representative, deputy director of the IMF’s European department Poul Thomsen, would not be arriving. “Poul Thomsen’s visit has been postponed and new dates have not yet been set,” the spokeswoman said.
An EU spokesman also said the troika visit had been postponed.
Samaras’s coalition government, sworn in last week, has called for the renegotiation of the painful terms of the financial lifeline, which is keeping Greece from bankruptcy but at the cost of harsh economic suffering.
The government faces a stern test at the two-day EU summit, with euro zone paymaster Germany particularly resistant to giving Athens any leeway.
Greece will be represented by Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos and outgoing Finance Minister George Zanias, government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said.
He said Samaras would leave hospital on Monday after undergoing a successful operation to repair a damaged retina.
“The orders of his doctor are for him not to travel and to stay at home for a few days,” he said. The hospital said his condition was “good and improving.”
“The prime minister cannot travel by car or by plane,” Panagiotis Theodosiadis, chief doctor at the Attika hospital, told Mega TV.
Responding to strong public pressure during a fifth year of recession, the government’s program calls for tax cuts, extra help for the poor and unemployed, a freeze on public sector lay-offs and more time to cut its deficit.
Greece’s euro zone partners have offered only adjustments to make up for the weeks of paralysis during two elections since early May and a deeper than expected recession.
But there will be no radical re-write, they say. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Greece had already forfeited much of Europe’s trust.
“The most important task facing new prime minister Samaras is to enact the program agreed upon quickly and without further delay instead of asking how much more others can do for Greece,” Schaeuble told Bild am Sonntag.
Greece’s new coalition brings together New Democracy, Socialist PASOK and the small Democratic Left in an uneasy alliance facing an emboldened opposition.
Before he could be sworn in, incoming Finance Minister Rapanos was rushed to the Hygeia Hospital. Doctors said on Saturday he had undergone a scanning test and that he was “stable and improving.” He was to continue drug therapy but no further details were available on his illness.
Samaras’s New Democracy narrowly won the June 17 election, a re-run of a vote on May 6 that produced stalemate. The radical leftist Syriza bloc surged into second place on a promise to tear up the terms of the bailout, potentially forcing Greece out of Europe’s single currency. ($1 = 0.7977 euros)
Writing by Matt Robinson; editing by Anna Willard