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Government tries to lower hopes ahead of Paris talks

Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis speaks to the press after a meeting with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and other government officials at the Maximos Mansion in Athens on Monday.

With the launch of talks with the troika in Paris due to begin on Tuesday afternoon, government officials on Monday sought to curb high hopes that have been cultivated in recent weeks, chiefly for potential tax cuts and other incentives for austerity-weary Greeks.

Following a meeting with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos, Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis told reporters that expectations had risen too high and that Greece would not be setting down any non-negotiable terms or “red lines” in the talks in Paris which would focus on “technical” matters. Greece’s “interlocutors” in Paris will be “executives of the troika and as such can only talk about the memorandum,” Hardouvelis said, referring to Greece’s loan deal with its creditors. “They can’t talk politics.”

The minister refuted reports that Athens would ask the creditors to lower certain taxes, such as a consumption tax on heating fuel which has proved inefficient as well as environmentally harmful. “That’s not on the agenda,” he said. “If they raise the issue, we’ll have answers.”

Sources indicated that the government decided to scale down hopes for tax relief to avert a huge disappointment if they fail to transpire and to ensure that the message being sent out by the Greek side is not totally discordant with that of troika representatives, who are keen to see that Athens is enforcing economic reforms.

Until late on Monday, members of the Paris delegation were hammering out the final details of their negotiating strategy. Meanwhile Finance Ministry officials were putting the finishing touches to a new unified property tax (ENFIA) which is to be submitted in Parliament by Friday. The ENFIA tax and Greece’s proposals for less onerous payment plans for those with nonperforming loans are among the issues expected to be discussed in Paris along with the budget and general progress with reforms.

Objections to ENFIA continued in the coalition ranks on Monday, with conservative lawmaker Dora Bakoyannis claiming that the tax was being introduced at the wrong time and has “exasperated the whole of Greek society.”

ekathimerini.com , Monday September 1, 2014 (20:26)  
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