Greece readies new list of bailout reforms
ATHENS, Greece (AP): Caught between its own defiant campaign pledges and pressure from creditors, Greece's left-wing government will deliver a list of reforms today, Tuesday, to debt inspectors for final approval of extended rescue loans, officials said.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was already facing dissent within his left-wing Syriza party over claims it is backtracking on its recent election-winning promises to ease budget cuts for the recession-battered Greeks.
Two officials linked to the government said the list will be sent to Brussels early Tuesday and be reviewed at a teleconference of the 19 eurozone finance ministers later in the day.
They spoke on condition of anonymity either because he was not authorised to make comments or because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.
Greece and bailout creditors have been in a standoff since Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' left-wing Syriza party won general elections last month on a pledge to tear up bailout agreements and seek a massive write off of bailout debts, totalling euro240 billion (US$271 billion).
But they reached a tentative agreement Friday to extend the country's rescue loan program by four months, avoiding the risk of a Greek default and exit from the euro currency.
The government official said reforms would focus on curbing tax evasion, corruption, smuggling and excessive bureaucracy while also addressing poverty caused by a six-year recession.
A Syriza official in Brussels said that "immediate priority" would be given to the settling of overdue debts, the protection of people with mortgage arrears as well as the ending of foreclosures of first residencies.
"Creditors will be sceptical. These are notoriously difficult reforms and, in the case of the latter, usually cost money," said Megan Greene, chief economist at Manulife Asset Management.
"It will be difficult for the Greek government to provide concrete measures for achieving these goals, and they will almost certainly be unable to achieve much before the next round of negotiations in June."
Tsipras is also facing pressure within his party.
Several prominent Syriza members have publicly said the party should honour its campaign promises.
Environment Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, an outspoken bailout critic, lashed lead bailout lender Germany for insisting that Athens stick with austerity measures – an effort he insisted would fail.
"Red lines in negotiations cannot be crossed – that's why they are red," he told the weekly Real News. "If the Germans choose to push the issue to a rift, they will bring catastrophic consequences on themselves."
The dissent could complicate approval of the overhauled reforms in parliament, with Syriza lacking a majority and relying on right-wing coalition partner, the Independent Greeks.
Government spokesman Gavrill Sakelaridis argued Greece is still locked in tough negotiations with lenders.
"No one can be expected to change everything in three weeks. We haven't got a magic wand," he told private Skai television.
Nikos Chountis, the deputy foreign minister, said the government had not abandoned its main goal of easing the country's debt burden with a write off. Any talks on lightening Greece's bailout burden would only come later – after the loan extension is approved this week, guaranteeing both sides have time to discuss the issue in depth.
"The big negotiation will be on whether the national debt is viable or not, and how it will be dealt with," he told pro-Syriza Sto Kokkino radio.
Monday's hurried preparations in Athens found Greeks celebrating a public holiday, the start of lent before Orthodox Christian Easter, on a day marked with picnics and kite flying.
Athens resident Christos Kotsabouyoukos took his young son and daughter to fly their kite on a hill facing the ancient Acropolis, and appeared resigned to more bad news.
"The way we're living now isn't nice ... Greeks are hungry and they are miserable," he said. ""If Europe now wants to kick us out, they can kick us out – what can we do?"