Greece, creditors resuming talks in Athens, seek swift deal
BY NICHOLAS PAPHITIS
ATHENS, Greece – Representatives of Greece’s bailout creditors are due in Athens to restart talks on further cutbacks, European officials said Monday, as they confirmed that the country last year far exceeded its budget targets.
European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said the negotiations are expected to start Tuesday and should last several days, with the objective of reaching an agreement “as soon as possible.”
That would clear the way for further talks on easing Greece’s debt burden, currently at 179 percent of GDP.
Following long delays in the negotiations, Greece has already agreed to further slash pensions in 2019 and drastically expand the tax base in 2020 by reducing the current tax-free threshold.
Greece is also under pressure to speed up the sale of infrastructure and utilities. And the country’s privatization agency announced Monday that a consortium led by private German investor Deutsche Invest Equity Partners has been named the highest bidder for a 67-percent stake in the Port of Thessaloniki, in northern Greece, offering 231.9 million euros ($252 million).
The forthcoming bailout talks are expected to focus on the final details of the next round of austerity measures, set to be worth about 3.6 billion euros ($3.85 billion).
Schinas also noted that Eurostat, the European Union statistical authority, has confirmed Greece’s 2016 budget figures, which far exceeded forecasts.
The primary budget surplus – which excludes debt servicing costs – reached 3.9 percent of annual output, according to the system of calculations used by Greece’s statistical authority. According to the terms of the country’s bailout, the surplus was 4.2 percent. Either way, it far overshot the initial target of 0.5 percent of GDP.
Schinas said the surplus, which is subject to final verification, “confirms the trends which we at the Commission have been reporting for a while,” and expressed confidence the country can meet its budget targets in 2017 and 2018.
Greeks have suffered seven years of repeated income cuts and tax hikes after the public finances imploded in 2010, forcing the country to rely on international bailouts.
To secure the rescue loans, successive governments imposed harsh cutbacks, amid a rapidly shrinking economy that has lost a quarter of its pre-crisis value, and record-high unemployment. The current, third bailout signed by the left-led government in 2015 runs until mid-2018 – after which the country is expected to be in a position to start borrowing again from international bond markets.