Greek outlines issues it wants renegotiated

By ELENA BECATOROS,Associated Press Updated at 2012-06-23 18:03:21 +0000


ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece's new coalition government said Saturday it will seek to repeal some taxes, halt layoffs and extend by two years the deadlines for tough austerity measures imposed under its international bailout agreement.

The policy statement issued by the three-party coalition came as the country's new prime minister, Antonis Samaras, successfully underwent eye surgery and his finance minister, Vassilis Rapanos, remained hospitalized after collapsing Friday.

"The general aim is no more cuts to salaries and pensions, no more taxes," the statement said, adding the government would not carry out any public sector layoffs.

Greece has been dependent since May 2010 on funds from two international rescue loan deals with other European Union countries and the International Monetary Fund, in return for which it imposed a series of deep spending cuts and tax hikes. Its most recent austerity program runs to mid-2014.

Whether the new government can deliver on its renegotiating pledges will depend on how they are viewed by their international creditors. Germany, the largest single contributor to Greece's bailout, has repeatedly said Athens must stick to its austerity targets.

Debt inspectors from the European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF are due to return to Athens on Monday to review the country's fiscal situation and resume talks that had been put on hold during the country's nearly two-month political deadlock.

Samaras, whose conservative New Democracy party came first in June 17 elections but did not win enough votes to govern alone, heads a government that includes his party's long-time socialist rivals, PASOK, and the small Democratic Left party.

The creation of a government following two inconclusive national elections ended weeks of political uncertainty that had led to fears of Greece being forced out of Europe's joint currency. Such an event could have dragged down other financially troubled European countries along with the continent's economy.

While pledging to stick to the country's bailout deal, all three parties had said they would seek to renegotiate certain terms of the loan agreement.

Greece is mired in the fifth year of a deep recession and has seen unemployment spiral to above 22 percent. Widespread anger with rapidly falling living standards led to a massive increase in support for anti-bailout parties in the last two elections.

The new government will aim to extend by at least two years the deadlines for it to impose tough fiscal reforms "to support demand, development (and) employment," it said.

"This way the final fiscal target can be achieved without further cuts to salaries and pensions or the public investment program, but through curbing waste and the targeted fighting of corruption, tax evasion" and the black economy.

The statement said it would seek to reduce consumer tax on the restaurant industry and for agriculture, and extend one-year unemployment benefits by another year. It will also seek to extend unemployment benefits to the self-employed who have lost their businesses, and gradually increase the tax-free income limit to European averages.

The new coalition government said it would seek to restore collective wage agreements "to the level defined by European social law" and review cuts to the minimum wage, which had been slashed by 22 percent earlier this year to about €580 ($727) a month as part of negotiations for Greece's second bailout package.

The government will also aim to replace the numerous property taxes currently in place with a single tax.

It will take "emergency measures" — which it did not detail — to restore the supply of medication to hospitals, it said, while also continuing to cut pharmaceutical and hospital spending.

In shutting down state organizations, one of the terms of its loan agreement, "the aim is not to have layoffs of permanent staff, but to have serious savings from non-salary operational costs and a reduction of bureaucracy."

The policy statement was issued shortly after Samaras underwent surgery to repair a detached retina. The hospital said the operation was carried out under full anesthesia and that the prime minister was recovering well.

"We're very satisfied with the outcome of the surgery, and I consider that although we had to deal with a truly difficult detachment of the retina, everything went as hoped for," said Panagiotis Theodosiadis, the doctor who treated Samaras.

He said the prime minister might remain hospitalized until Monday, although that would be determined over the next day.

Theodosiadis said he would know on Sunday whether Samaras would be able to fly to Brussels next week. The new prime minister faces the first test of his pledges to renegotiate some of the bailout terms at a European Union summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

Separately, Rapanos, the newly appointed finance minister, was still being treated in a private hospital after being rushed there Friday complaining of nausea, intense abdominal pain, dizziness and weakness.

A hospital statement Saturday said Rapanos had been undergoing tests, the results of which were "very satisfactory," and that his condition was "stable and improving."

It did not say what he was suffering from, or give any further details on his condition, other than to say his treatment would continue. It was unclear how long he would remain hospitalized.

Rapanos, who was named to the post Thursday, has not been sworn in to office yet. That ceremony had been scheduled for Friday evening, but was postponed due to his illness.