Greece was very close to a solution regarding its debt after the last Eurogroup, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras predicted on Sunday during the customary premier’s press conference at the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF).
Replying to main opposition New Democracy’s repeated call for elections, meanwhile, Tsipras said that ND leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis was still betting on a ‘left interlude’ instead of supporting the country, which he said needed stability and not elections at this time.
Noting that Greece was an oasis of stability within a large destabilised region, Tsipras said there would be little to gain by bringing elections forward:
“We have a goal and a plan and now also allies in Europe. We can go after and achieve more,” he said, noting that growth was expected to take off in 2017.
“Whether this will last depends on the negotiation with the EU and the IMF. We would like to have the main opposition as an ally but, unfortunately, we find them against us once again,” he added.
Greece’s debt was not a bilateral issue but also concerned the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Tsipras pointed out. Germany’s views would play a crucial role but were not the only ones to consider, he added.
“It is a problem that has an international dimension, because the solution to this problem will play a decisive role for growth in the European economy, which in turn determines the global economy,” he said, noting that there was no disagreement with Germany.
Germany believes that rules must be followed and Greece was doing this, but expected its partners to do likewise, Tsipras said. He noted that the reforms carried out by Greece were “a pleasant surprise” and that the conclusion of the first review amounted to 75 pct of the Greek programme.
“We have not reaped any results due to the Germany-IMF dispute,” Tsipras pointed out, adding that political developments in a single country could not act as an obstacle to the changes that Europe needs.
Referring to the prior actions that were still pending for the conclusion of the review and a full disbursement of the first tranche of loans, he said these were primarily of a technical nature.
With respect to the second review of the programme, Tsipras said the outstanding prior actions were also largely technical and that Greece intends to “run, to accelerate and finish the process of implementing the agreements.” There were also political issues, primarily concerning labour regulations, he added, but here Greece would treat European practice and law as its last line of defence.
Questioned about primary surplus targets and the creditors’ refusal to lower these further, Tsipras noted that the surplus targets after 2018 would depend on the decisions taken for Greece’s debt on a European and international level. He appeared confident that negotiating lower surpluses was feasible, however, and said the government will aim to do just that.
“If after 2018 we have the option of smaller surpluses, we will have a fiscal space of 3.0 billion euros,” he noted, adding that he will come to TIF as prime minister in two years time to outline how this will be allocated. The main goal will be to ease the taxation burden on businesses, gradually introduce a fairer property tax and take steps to support the weak in society, as well as education and health.
Tsipras outlined plans to make Greece an energy hub in the region, while noting that the construction of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) had largely achieved this goal. “To the degree that there are other pipelines at our borders, we will be quick to welcome them in the framework of EU treaties and the rules of free competition,” he added, saying talks were already underway with Italy and a deal already set up between Greece’s public gas company DEPA, Russia’s Gazprom and an Italian firm.
The prime minister was also questioned about the ongoing case against the former head of Greece’s independent statistics authority Andreas Georgiou, investigating allegations that he artificially inflated ELSTAT’s estimate of Greece’s 2009 deficit to ‘facilitate’ the country’s entry into bailout programmes. Tsipras pointed out that the fallout concerning ELSTAT’s figures in 2009 primarly concerned the ND and PASOK parties, which were then in power, not SYRIZA.
He underlined, however, that Greek justice was independent and that the investigation will be carried out in depth, to shed light on what actually happened, while the discussion did concerned neither the third bailout programme nor the discussion about easing Greece’s debt.
“The Europeans have not asked that Greek justice not investigate what happened,” he added, while expressing his surprise at Georgiou’s statement that the country will not receive all it can for the debt if the investigation continues.
On the migration and refugee issue, Tsipras asked Greece’s European partners to speed up implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement with respect to resettlement of refugees, and noted that Turkey had largely kept its end of the bargain, giving Greece some much-needed respite.
Talking about privatisations, Tsipras said the government had striven to escape a “firesale” mentality and better defend the public interest, while “acting within the framework laid out by the agreement.” While the revenue from privatisations went toward paying down the debt, the government had worked hard for developmental investments and higher prices, he said. “We succeeded in the case of COSCO, the Hellinikon site and this is what we want for Thessaloniki port and the rest,” he said.
Tsipras referred to pension reforms, pointing out that 90 pct of pensioners had not seen their main pensions reduced, despite the opposition’s dire warning that this would be impossible, and that only 5 pct suffered drastic reductions, while 10 pct had seen a small reduction.
He promised that the government will provide incentives to protect jobs in the television stations that did not receive a nationwide general content licence and said the revenue raised by the relevant tender was “unexpected” and will be spent on unscheduled actions.
Referring to agricultural policy and the adverse effect of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), he said the goal was to support production and invest in good-quality, competitive products.
“We have seen ‘two speeds’ generated in Europe due to CAP, with the South trailing behind. In our country, especially, there was a twisted logic and chiefly a devaluation of cooperative production. There must be collaborations jointly seeking a restructuring of agricultural production and a reduction of production costs, as well as tackling unethical commercial practices in the food chain, by the so-called cartels. We must direct all the tools we have, such as the Juncker plan, to investments that boost the productive base,” he said.