ATHENS (Reuters) - If Greece rejects the 130-billion-euro rescue package meant to dig it out of a debt crisis the country will be plunged into a nightmare that it cannot control, Greece’s conservative leader Antonis Samaras said on Thursday.
Samaras, whose New Democracy party has regained a tentative lead in polls ahead of a June 17 parliamentary election that may determine the country’s future in the single currency, has often criticized the terms of the international bailout that saved Greece from bankruptcy.
Promising to jump-start growth in the country’s recession-mired economy and to not impose new taxes, he said his proposals would keep Greece in the euro while allowing it to have a more palatable austerity programme.
“Denouncing the bailout will lead to an exit from the euro and Greek living standards will drop by a third in very little time. It will be a real nightmare,” Samaras told supporters, outlining his 18-point economic policy platform.
“Those who talk of denouncing the bailout are like little children playing with matches in a gunpowder warehouse and they are driving us towards an isolated Greece.”
Although he did not name SYRIZA, his leftist rivals, by name, his comments were aimed at rebutting the radical party’s proposals to keep the euro but ditch the bailout, the conditions of which it believes are too harsh.
Greece was forced to call the new vote after an election on May 6 left parliament divided between parties that support and oppose the austerity measures tied to the second bailout agreed with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund in March.
Neither the pro-bailout or anti-bailout parties were able to form a government despite tortuous efforts to do so and the success of the radical leftist SYRIZA party, which came second, has sent shockwaves through Europe.
“If Greece denounces the bailout it would not be able to control the outcome - not even Brussels or other European capitals would be able to control it,” Samaras said.
With just three weeks before the election, Samaras said existing taxes would gradually be reduced in order to stimulate consumption, boost hiring and spur recovery in an economy now in its fifth year of recession.
A single corporate tax rate would fall to 15 percent from the current 23 percent, VAT would decrease to 19 percent from 23 percent and the top rate of income tax would drop to 32 percent from 45 percent, he said.
“No new taxes,” Samaras said. “We will stay in the euro under conditions that allow Greece to survive and develop. Not to die a slow and excruciating death.”
In a country where more than half of Greeks aged 18-24 are unemployed, Samaras said he would halt rising unemployment - which is currently at 22 percent of the workforce - and pledged to create at least 150,000 new jobs in the private sector by mid-2013.
“Jobs, jobs, jobs. This is my message,” he said.
He also promised to boost spending on the welfare sector, which has been hard hit by cuts in pay and pensions to plug fiscal shortfalls.
SYRIZA hit back at Samaras’ proposals, saying he was echoing the demands of the country’s lenders.
“Samaras’s 18 proposals (for the economy) are actually 18 steps towards completing the hell of the bailout,” the party said in a statement.
Editing by Andrew Osborn and Myra MacDonald