Meeting with troika postponed until Thursday afternoon

A meeting between Greek officials and representatives of the so-called troika of foreign lenders was postponed until the afternoon on Thursday, a day after the conservative-led coalition government announced a compromise over an emergency tax seen as a symbol of harsh austerity measures.

After talks late Wednesday with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and PASOK chief Evangelos Venizelos, Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis said that the coalition would approach the troika with a “common position that the emergency property tax be replaced with a new unified property tax.”

His party had been vehemently opposed to extending an unpopular emergency property tax introduced in 2011 and levied via electricity bills.

The new tax would also be attached to electricity bills but only for this year, Kouvelis said. Tax offices will be responsible for collecting the levy from next year.

The new levy will combine all property taxes and could lead to some owners paying less overall. Kouvelis added that the tax would be levied on a wider property base, including farmland.

Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras told reporters that the government would propose to the troika changes to the charges faced by property owners. Venizelos suggested that a tax-free threshold might be introduced. However it was not clear late Wednesday which of these two options the government would choose.

The troika is due to begin its latest visit to Greece by holding talks with Stournaras. It will be the first chance for the two sides to re-examine several issues that have remained unresolved since European Central Bank, European Commission and International Monetary Fund officials left Athens in March.

These include the reduction of the number of civil servants, with 25,000 workers expected to enter a mobility scheme this year.

Also, the recapitalization of Greek banks has yet to be completed, with the troika harboring doubts about the merger between National Bank and Eurobank. There will also be discussions about how many installments Greeks should be allowed to pay off their overdue taxes.

Kathimerini understands that the two sides hope to conclude talks by April 16 so that the Eurogroup can then decided whether to approve the delayed March tranche of 2.8 billion euros and the next installment of 6 billion euros.

On Wednesday, the leader of Greece’s largest industry group challenged government forecasts that the country will return to growth next year.

“The numbers don’t add up … the recession in 2013 is deepening, and the return to growth in 2014 will not happen,” Dimitris Daskalopoulos, leader of the Greece Federation of Enterprises, said.

He argued that Greece’s private sector had been too badly weakened by austerity measures to recover this year, and that the banking crisis and bailout of nearby Cyprus had also taken an unexpected toll on Greek public finances. [Combined reports]

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