ATHENS — Greece will be unable to repay massive bailout debts without eventually restructuring them, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said, as pressure from lenders mounted on Athens to produce viable cost-cutting reforms to unlock emergency funds and prevent default.
Tsipras told Greek lawmakers late March 30 that his two-month-old government had not abandoned its pledge to seek a debt settlement and push for more generous deficit targets.
“There is the recognition (from lenders) of the need to finally begin a debate on the necessary restructuring of the Greek debt,” he said. “Because without such an intervention it is impossible to repay it.”
But he wouldn’t reveal details of the reforms list demanded by the troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) must approve before releasing a long-delayed 7.2-billion euro installment as part of a four-month bailout extension granted on Feb. 20.
Instead, Tsipras attacked opposition parties who attacked him after he attacked them, continuing the long-running political warfare that has Greek politicians locked in battle with each other as the country sinks.
Greece’s reserves are running low on money needed to repay debts and keep the country running after troubled negotiations with lenders and early general elections in January stalled the payout of more than 7 billion euros ($7.6 billion) left in bailout funds for months.
In Brussels, EU Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said a deal with Greece “requires a lot of technical work” even after hours of meetings to discuss the Tsipras government proposals over the weekend.
Athens faces debt repayments and rollovers of nearly 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) in April, mainly in the middle of the month, with obligations rising further in the coming months. Not being able to raise money on international bond markets, Greece depends on bailout creditors for the money to meet those obligations.
Germany, the biggest individual creditor to Greece’s bailouts, insists a lot more still needed to be done. Finance Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger said the talks were “to be honest a little hard to evaluate — clearly not an officially submitted comprehensive reform list.”
The Commission’s Schinas appeared a bit more optimistic, saying the continuation of the discussions “is a positive sign that shows willingness and seriousness of all sides to constructively engage.”
So far, Greece says reworked reforms for 2015 would yield 3 billion euros from measures it argues wouldn’t depress economic activity in Greece — cuts to salaries and pensions are out.
An official in Athens said last week that the reforms had been cost-assessed and would still leave Greece with a primary budget surplus — what’s left after debt payments — of 1.5 percent of gross domestic product in 2015 and growth of around 1.4 percent.
LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!
Tsipras called the emergency session of Parliament, which he will not allow to vote on the bailout extension, to talk about the reforms given to the troika as negotiations drone on but he wouldn’t talk about them.
He continued his policy of telling the troika one thing and telling Greeks another, promising the lenders to implement reforms while telling Greeks he won’t.
He said he wanted a deal but not at any cost as he tries to balance his broken campaign promises to end austerity and talk tough to the troika.
“It is true that we are seeking an honest compromise with our lenders, but don’t expect an unconditional surrender,” he said.
He added that Greece had submitted its list of “short-term measures” to creditors, noting that these included curbing fuel and tobacco smuggling, conducting checks on foreign bank tranfers and curbing VAT fraud but he wouldn’t reveal details amid complaints from critics the government is dragging its feet and presenting vague outlines.
“It’s time for the privileged to start paying and for the looting of the middle class and salaried workers to stop,” he said, without saying how he would do it.
He assailed the major opposition parties that his Radical Left SYRIZA party beat in the Jan. 25 elections, the former ruling New Democracy Conservatives of previous Premier Antonis Samaras and the PASOK Socialists.
He called on them to support the government’s “national negotiation strategy to put an end to austerity” and not to simply be “mouthpieces for the powers of the memorandum.”
He added: “We inherited a country not on the edge of the abyss, but deep in the abyss already,” Tsipras said, although Samaras said when he departed he had the country on the edge of recovery.
Samaras snapped back, “We inherited chaos and handed over a country,” he said. “You took over a country and are preparing to throw it into chaos,” he said, adding that he thinks Tsipras is leading Greece toward a default that could force the country out of the Eurozone.
He said his party would support the government but suggested that SYRIZA’s own internal dissent could be the biggest problem. “The situation can still be saved. We will support you to stop the country hitting the rocks, but you are the government. Can you handle the responsibility of keeping Greece on its feet?”
PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos gave his reluctant support to the governmenton condition that it had “a national strategy, not opportunism.”
WHERE’S THE BEEF?
While Tsipras wouldn’t detail the reforms list still being worked on six weeks after Greece got a bailout extension, the newspaper Kathimerini gave more specifics which showed the government is counting on strategies that have failed all previous administrations, including going after tax cheats and corruption.
The list promises revenues of 3.7 billion euros this year, according to sources. The measures include tax changes and structural reforms, taxing deposits abroad and a drop in anticipated revenues from privatizations.
Sources add that the Finance Ministry expects the reforms to take the primary surplus for 2015 above 1.2 percent, possibly to 1.5 percent, with the confirmation of those forecasts depending on how soon Athens and its creditors complete their negotiations.
Most of the anticipated revenues are seen coming from monitoring deposits abroad (725 million euros), combating value-added tax evasion (350 million), licensing TV channels (350 million), the settlement of expired debts to the tax and social security authorities (600 million), simplifying the income tax code (300 million), the receipt lottery plan (270 million), combating tobacco and fuel smuggling (250 million) and the new tenders for online gaming (200 million, against an original 500 million euros).
Sell-offs are now expected to fetch 1.5 billion euros, against an original target for 2.2 billion, mainly from the sale of a majority stake in Piraeus Port Authority, the concession of the horse race betting license and regional airports.
The structural reforms said to be proposed include strengthening the autonomy of the General Secretariat of Public Revenues, the abolition of early retirements, the modernization of revenue collection practices with the abolition of exceptions, and the promotion of out-of-court agreements for the settlement of bad loans.
The government will also keep the hated ENFIA unified property tax that Tsipras vowed to scrap almost as soon as he took office but in keeping with its practice of ambiguity will give it a different name – the Large Property Tax – so it can say ENFIA is gone.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)
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