Government heralds tax relief in two phases

Government officials on Monday defended the decision by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to herald tax breaks at the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) over the weekend as the first tangible move toward offering relief after years of austerity and indicated that the pledges could be supported by the budget.

“We’re saying specific things, things that we can do at specific times, things we can do in the future,” government spokeswoman Sofia Voultepsi told Skai.

According to sources, Samaras finalized the measures just a few hours before his opening speech at TIF on Saturday in coordination with his coalition partner, PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos, and close aides. The premier chose to announce some of the relief in detail on Saturday, notably a 30 percent reduction to a tax on heating oil. Other measures, such as a reduction to a so-called solidarity tax on income, would be elaborated on when the budget for 2015 is drafted next month, he said.

The logic behind offering the pledges in two phases is to present the prospect of relief from austerity without pre-empting the outcome of talks with troika officials who are in due in Athens later this month, source said.

Venizelos made it clear in a press conference on Sunday that he backs Samaras’s pledges for relief. But the PASOK leader has the cohesion of his fragile party to worry about in addition to the coalition’s economic policy. Socialist party sources on Monday played down a rift between Venizelos and former party leader George Papandreou. Venizelos is expected to start setting up an organizational committee ahead of the party conference this fall where PASOK’s prospects and policies are to be examined.

Meanwhile, in an interview with CNBC, leftist SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras sought to emphasize that he is ready to govern, noting that he expects snap elections early next year as the current government lacks the 180 seats in Parliament it needs for its proposed candidate for president. A political change in Greece would “not be a threat for Europe but a challenge to find common European solutions to common problems,” he said.

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