PM says debt solution ‘closer than ever’

TAGS: Politics, Economy, EU

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Sunday declared that Greece was “closer than ever” to a settlement to its debt problem while underlining that a rift between the European Union and the International Monetary Fund on that issue was damaging for the country.

Addressing a media conference in Thessaloniki, the day after his speech to entrepreneurs at the city’s annual international fair, Tsipras said the disagreement between the IMF and the EU over Greece’s debt “is creating delays in regaining the trust of markets.” The dispute was also preventing Greece’s participation in the European Central Bank’s quantitative easing program, he said.

Despite the obstacles, he said, Greece would approach “critical negotiations on the debt with a plan and a goal.” “We believe we have allies in Europe,” Tsipras said, apparently referring to the leaders of southern European countries who met in Athens on Friday for talks on shifting away from austerity policies and promoting a more comprehensive European approach to tackling the refugee crisis.

On the refugee issue, Tsipras called on the EU to speed up a dragging relocation program and said Greece’s aim is to “stop illegal flows and create legal flows.”

The Greek premier insisted that Greece’s economy would “rebound” and described the country as “an oasis of stability in an unstable region.” He also doused speculation about snap polls, noting that Greece “needs stability, not elections” and ruled out cooperating with conservative New Democracy or political forces that support it. He repeated Greece’s commitment to extracting war reparations from Germany.

In a tense exchange with journalists of television channels that failed to secure one of four licenses in a recent auction, Tsipras underlined the government’s commitment to fighting corruption and vested interests in the media sector, and remarked that staff at private channels had not protested when the previous government shut down the state broadcaster ERT, leading to job losses there. To a journalist at Alpha channel who said she held him responsible for her losing her job, Tsipras said “there are no more free lunches.”

The night before, in a speech before Greece’s political and business elite, Tsipras said that 246 million euros, the proceeds of the TV license auction, would go toward the “needs of the welfare state.” He promised 10,000 new jobs at state hospitals, thousands more free meals at schools, more kindergarten places and a program aimed at bringing back young Greeks who left the country due to the crisis. “Every last euro of the 246 million euros will go the people,” he said.

He also announced a five-year action plan – “a realistic road map for the recovery of the economy and reduction of burdens” – that would bring about a “new Greece” by 2021, and promised to freeze the social security contributions of self-employed Greeks as well as reducing taxes in two years time.

Heralding positive growth in the second half of the year, Tsipras appealed to foreign and local entrepreneurs to invest “without hesitation” in the Greek economy. “It will be mutually beneficial for you and the economy,” he said, noting that authorities were offering a stable tax environment for 12 years to companies investing more than 20 million euros.

Earlier on Saturday, around 15,000 people protested peacefully in Thessaloniki amid a strong police presence.