Antonis Samaras is a Greek politician who served as 14th Prime Minister of Greece from 2012 to 2015. A member of the New Democracy party, he was its president from 2009 until 2015. Samaras started his national political career as Minister of Finance in 1989; he served as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1989 to 1992 (with a brief interruption in 1990) and Minister of Culture in 2009. Antonis Samaras was previously best known for a 1993 controversy in which he effectively caused the New Democracy government, of which he was a member, to fall from power. In spite of this, he rejoined the party in 2004 and was elected to its leadership in a closely fought intra-party election in late 2009. He was the seventh party leader since it was founded in 1974.
Antonis Samaras has been elected as a Member of Parliament, initially for Messinia, from 1977 onward. In 1989 he became Minister of Finance, later advancing to become the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the New Democracy government of Prime Minister Konstantinos Mitsotakis (1990–1993), from which post he caused the Macedonia naming dispute to ignite. In a meeting of the Greek political leaders under the President of the Republic on the naming dispute on 13 April 1992, Samaras presented his own conditions for the solution of the crisis. These were rejected by both the President of the Republic, Konstantinos Karamanlis as well as the Prime Minister, Konstantinos Mitsotakis. Samaras was subsequently removed from Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Foundation of Political Spring
After being removed from his post, Samaras founded his own party, Political Spring, located politically to the right of New Democracy. The defection of one Member of Parliament from New Democracy to Samaras’ party caused the government’s fall from power in 1993.
Political Spring gained 4.9% of the vote in the 1993 general election, earning ten seats in the Hellenic Parliament. It gained 8.7% in the 1994 European Parliament election, earning two seats. Its decline began in the 1996 general election, when it gained 2.94 per cent, just below the 3 per cent threshold necessary to enter parliament. It participated in the 1999 European Parliament election, but only got 2.3%, which was not enough to elect MEPs.
Return to the New Democracy
Political Spring did not participate in the 2000 general election; Samaras publicly supported the New Democracy party. Before the 2004 general election, Samaras dissolved his party, rejoined New Democracy and he was elected a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) in the 2004 European elections.
In the 2007 general election he was elected to the Hellenic Parliament for Messinia and consequently resigned from the European Parliament. He was succeeded by Margaritis Schinas. In January 2009 he was appointed Minister of Culture following a government reshuffle. In this capacity he inaugurated the new Acropolis Museum in July 2009. He was reelected in Messenia in 2009.
After New Democracy resoundingly lost the 2009 legislative election, Kostas Karamanlis resigned as head of the party, prompting a leadership race, and Samaras ran for the post. Early polls showed he was running neck-and-neck with the perceived initial favorite Dora Bakoyanni, the former Foreign Minister and former Athens mayor. Shortly thereafter, another leadership candidate, former Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos, announced he was resigning his candidacy and would instead support Samaras. In a break with previous practice, an extraordinary party congress resolved that the new leader would be elected by party members in a countrywide ballot. Samaras’ candidacy soared in opinion polls and finished the race as a favorite.
Leader of the Opposition
In the early morning hours of 30 November 2009, Samaras was elected the new President of New Democracy. Following early results showing Samaras in a comfortable lead, Bakoyanni, his main rival, conceded defeat and called Samaras to congratulate him. He accepted his election with a speech at the party headquarters and pledged to carry out a broad ideological and organizational reform, aspiring to regain majority status. He was later instrumental in the expulsion of Bakoyanni (2010) for defying the party line and voting for an austerity measure required for European Union-International Monetary Fund backed lending.
Prime Minister George Papandreou announced his government’s plans on 31 October to hold a referendum on the acceptance of the terms of a Eurozone bailout deal. The referendum was to be held in December 2011 or January 2012. Following vehement opposition from both within and outside the country, Papandreou however scrapped the plan a few days later on 3 November.
On 5 November, Samaras’ government only narrowly won a confidence vote in the Greek Parliament, and he called for immediate elections. The next day, Papandreou met with opposition leaders trying to reach an agreement on the formation of an interim national unity government. However, Samaras only gave in after Papandreou agreed to step aside, allowing the EU bailout to proceed and paving the way for elections on 19 February 2012.
After several days of intense negotiations, the two major parties along with the Popular Orthodox Rally agreed to form a grand coalition headed by former Vice President of the European Central Bank Lucas Papademos. On 10 November, George Papandreou formally resigned as Prime Minister of Greece. The new coalition cabinet and Prime Minister Lucas Papademos were formally sworn in on 11 November 2011.
Prime Minister of Greece
Following the May 2012 general election in which the New Democracy party became the largest party in the Hellenic Parliament, Samaras was asked by Greek President Karolos Papoulias to try to form a government. However, after a day of negotiations with the other parties, Samaras officially announced he was giving up the mandate to form a government. The task passed to Alexis Tsipras, Leader of Syriza, the second largest party, who was also unable to form a government. After the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) also failed to negotiate a successful agreement to form a government, emergency talks with the President of Greece ended with a new election being called while the outgoing Chairman of the Council of State Panagiotis Pikrammenos was appointed as Prime Minister of Greece in a caretaker government composed of independent technocrats.
Voters once again took to the polls in the widely watched June 2012 election. The New Democracy party came out on top in a stronger position with 129 seats, compared to 108 in the May election. On 20 June 2012, Samaras successfully formed a coalition with the PASOK (now led by former Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos) and the Democratic Left (DIMAR). The new government had a majority of 28 (which was later reduced to 18), with Syriza, the Independent Greeks (ANEL), Golden Dawn (XA) and the Communist Party (KKE) comprising the opposition. The PASOK and DIMAR chose to take a limited role in Samaras’s Cabinet, being represented by party officials and independent technocrats instead of MPs.
The Democratic Left left the coalition on 21 June 2013 in protest at the closure of the nation’s public broadcaster Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT), leaving Samaras with a slim majority of 153 ND and PASOK MPs combined. The two remaining parties proceeded to negotiate a cabinet reshuffle that resulted in a significantly expanded role for PASOK in the new coalition government. A further reshuffle followed the 2014 European Parliament election.
Samaras implemented a series of reforms and austerity measures with the aim of reducing government budget deficits and making the Greek economy competitive. In 2013 he passed reform bills approving the layoff of 15,000 public employees, among them high school teachers, school guards and municipal policemen. At the same time, he cut value-added tax (VAT) in restaurants to 13 percent from 23 percent. He also passed a bill instituting the Single Property Tax and the auction of houses. The Minister of Administrative Reform and e-Governance Kyriakos Mitsotakis implemented an evaluation process on the public sector to locate surplus staff members.
On 9 December 2014, Antonis Samaras announced the candidacy of New Democracy politician Stavros Dimas for the position of President of Greece. Dimas failed to secure the required majority of MPs of the Hellenic Parliament in the first three rounds of voting. According to the provisions of the Constitution of Greece, snap elections were held on 25 January 2015, which were won by Syriza. Tsipras succeeded Samaras, who resigned as Leader of New Democracy on 5 July 2015, following the overwhelming victory of the “No” vote in the bailout referendum, naming Vangelis Meimarakis as transitional leader. Samaras had been backing a “Yes” vote, together with his party, before the referendum.