Greek PM Antonis Samaras joins his finance minister Vassilios Rapanos in hospital
Daniel Howden is Africa Correspondent for The Independent. He has reported from more than 50 countries covering everything from wars and elections to natural disasters and environmental crises. Special interests beyond Africa include southeast Europe, Latin America and global forests. A former Athens correspondent he has returned to Greece regularly during the European debt crisis. Now based in Nairobi, he acted as producer on the documentary 'Stolen Seas: Tales of Somali Piracy', winner of the Boccalino D'Oro prize at the 2012 Locarno film festival.
Monday 25 June 2012
Greece is heading into the most important European summit of recent times without its new prime minister, who will remain in Athens to recover from eye surgery. The sense of a leadership vacuum has been compounded by the collapse of the new finance minister who was taken to hospital before he could be sworn into office.
Antonis Samaras underwent a four-hour procedure on a detached retina on Saturday and has been advised not to fly. The 61-year-old premier took office at the head of a weak coalition last week after two inconclusive elections in which he argued that he was best placed to renegotiate Greece's debt deal.
The heavily indebted nation is expected to ask for a two-year extension to the fiscal targets it was set in return for a €173bn (£140bn) bailout by the so-called troika of the IMF, the EU and the European Central Bank.
The two-day summit which opens on Thursday in Brussels will be expected to offer some form of concession to the Greek government, which is under enormous domestic pressure due to the troika-imposed austerity programme that has deepened the country's recession.
The newly appointed finance minister, Vassilios Rapanos, will not be able to travel to the summit either after he was hospitalised on Friday. In his place, George Zanias, who held the post under Greece's stop-gap government during the general elections, will continue to represent the country.
The gruelling nature of the debt crisis and the negotiations that go with it were underlined in October when Mr Zanias himself was hospitalised with chest pains during a summit. Mr Rapanos's latest illness has not been publicy disclosed.
Mr Samaras's decision not to travel to Brussels by road – a distance of about 1,300 miles – after he was advised not to fly has been received poorly in Greece, where the new premier is under pressure to show he can win concessions from Greece's northern European creditors. Theodore Pelagidis, a professor of economic analysis at the University of Piraeus, said: "Nobody wants to govern this country. That's why they keep putting in technocrats. We don't have a political elite capable of running the country."
The conservative leader forced Greece into elections earlier in May, ending a brief period of comparative stability under the technocrat administration of Lucas Papademos. Mr Samaras has a troubled history with Greece's EU allies after he initially refused to support the bailout programme before changing his position.
The elections were closely watched around the world and seen by many as a referendum on the country's membership of the euro.
Following the installation of the conservative-led coalition, Athens is now hoping for a faster release of emergency loans to clear some of the €6.6bn of internal debts that have crippled whole sectors of the economy such as healthcare.
But in order to receive the next tranche of European money needed to avoid bankruptcy the new government is meant to pass another €11bn of spending cuts before the end of this month.
That's some guestlist! Stunning images show huge dynastic wedding between Ultra-Orthodox Jewish families which attracted 25,000 guests
Man and woman arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to murder victim of Woolwich machete attack, named as Drummer Lee Rigby
'Sickening, deluded and unforgivable': Horrific attack brings terror to London’s streets
World news in pictures
Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, the mother-of-two hailed as a hero for confronting Woolwich attackers, thought: 'better me than a child'
- 1 Man and woman arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to murder victim of Woolwich machete attack, named as Drummer Lee Rigby
- 2 'Sickening, deluded and unforgivable': Horrific attack brings terror to London’s streets
- 3 Grace Dent: I’m not sure how these people can avoid being called ‘bigots’. And the more ‘civilised’, the worse they are
- 4 Woolwich murder: They killed, then they performed - these men should be starved of our attention
- 5 Woolwich attack: The EDL will seek to exploit this evil crime for their own evil ends
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Find out what The Independent's resident travel expert has to say about one of the most beautiful small cities in the world
Nook is donating eReaders to volunteers at high-need schools and participating in exclusive events throughout the campaign.
Get the latest on The Evening Standard's campaign to get London's children reading.
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.