NEWS

Surplus will make its way to low-income Greeks as pledged, officials say

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is determined to distribute the bulk of a projected primary surplus to vulnerable social groups as promised, Kathimerini understands, despite reports that the troika has shifted its stance on the matter, putting the government on a possible collision course with the foreign inspectors as negotiations resume.

According to sources, Samaras is determined to stick to his guns and give 70 percent of the primary surplus for 2013 – the size of which will not be determined until April – to low-income pensioners and members of the police and armed forces, as he has repeatedly promised. The troika is understood to object to this plan, proposing instead that the handouts be drawn from the amount by which Greece overshoots its primary surplus target for 2014, which is 2.9 billion euros. The alleged shift has irked the government, which is preparing for local and regional authority elections in May and cannot afford to be seen to be breaking promises.

The foreign creditors’ insistence on a deal in negotiations by Sunday has also annoyed Greek officials who note that a deadline should not be imposed before a deal is reached.

A key sticking point in the talks is the enforcement of certain structural reforms, which are aimed at lifting barriers to competition and are set out in a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and have rattled special interest groups. The government is pushing back against troika demands for supermarkets to be given the right to sell non-prescription medicines. Also, as regards demands for an extension to the shelf life of milk, the Greek side has said it will not consent to reforms that harm the interests of Greek producers.

Troika mission chiefs are due back in Athens on Thursday to resume talks following a three-day break prompted by Monday’s Eurogroup summit in Brussels, where eurozone officials urged Athens to quickly conclude a long-running review of its economic review.

In a speech in the European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday, European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn praised Greece for the extent of its fiscal adjustment, referring to “tangible signs of growth” and noting that the country was on course to post a primary surplus for the first time in years.

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