Troika pushing for budget, tax reform bill to be tabled sooner

Greece will have to submit its 2013 budget to Parliament about two weeks earlier than usual, along with a bill overhauling the country?s tax system, as part of a commitment to the troika, which looks set to unlock the next installment of bailout funding.

Friday’s meeting between Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras and the troika officials in Athens was postponed until Saturday to give the Greek side more time to prepare. However, sources said that beyond having to agree on what measures will be included in the 13.5-billion-euro austerity package the two sides are negotiating, Greece?s lenders also expect Athens to guarantee a set of so-called ?prior actions.?

This includes having to submit next year?s budget to Parliament at the beginning of November. Usually, the budget is submitted toward the end of the month. The troika is also pressing for the tax bill, which will see income tax brackets changed, to be approved quickly.

The Greek side still has to take steps to liberalize closed professions, especially in the legal sector, and to deregulate the energy and fuel markets. The greater use of generic drugs in public healthcare and the merging of all funds into the National Organization for Healthcare Provision (EOPYY) are also on the government?s to-do list. The visiting inspectors also want the coalition to enshrine in law the minimum wage, which was slashed by 22 percent earlier this year.

The government is not expected to reach a final agreement with the troika this weekend but there are still hopes that Prime Minister Antonis Samaras will travel to Brussels for the European Union leaders? summit on Thursday with some kind of deal in the bag.

?We think that an agreement could be close,? Simon O? Connor, spokesman for EU Financial and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn, said on Friday.

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde on Friday stood by her comments that Greece should be given more time to meet its fiscal targets. ?Given the… lack of growth, given the market pressure, given the efforts that have been undertaken, a bit more time is necessary,? she said in Tokyo.

At the same meeting, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble appeared to challenge Lagarde?s views. ?There?s no alternative to reduce in the medium term too high sovereign debts, especially, and of course for… the eurozone as a whole,? he said.

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