Greece facing midnight deadline to file its austerity plan
With roughly eight hours to go before a midnight deadline, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras raced on Thursday afternoon to finalize a tough package with tax hikes and pension reforms so that lenders will extend an aid lifeline to the beleaguered country.
The plan needs to get into the hands of Greece’s European creditors in Brussels before clocks in the Belgian city strike 12 p.m. — or Greece could face an economic meltdown.
Tsipras was huddled with advisers, pulling together a package of reforms that is expected to include much tougher measures than those included in a previous plan from creditors that was rejected by Greeks in a referendum on Sunday.
But having won wide public support at the referendum and the subsequent backing of opposition parties, an emboldened Tsipras is expected to have an easier time facing down any resistance at home, allowing him to focus to appeasing creditors.
The Greek daily Kathimerini said the package was worth $13.25 billion, bigger than a previous $8.8 billion plan because the Athens economy — battered by two weeks of capital controls — was now expected to shrink 3 percent instead of growing 0.5 percent this year.
A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, disputed the Kathimerini figure, saying the package was still a work in progress.
The offer must go far enough to satisfy skeptical creditors but may face resistance from the hard-left wing of Tsipras’ Syriza party and from his junior coalition partner, the Independent Greeks, after the government campaigned and won a resounding “No” to more austerity in the referendum on July 5.
In a sign of the some of the upcoming challenges Tsipras will face, the leader of the far-left flank of Syriza came out to denounce any imposition of harsh measures on Greeks.
“We don’t want to add to the past two failed bailouts a third bailout of tough austerity which will not give any prospects for the country,” Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis told reporters. “Greece is not facing execution, it is not ready to accept any fait accompli.”
But Lafazanis also said it was clear Greece was looking to reach a deal soon with the institutions that will respect the “dignity” of people, leaving the door open for him to eventually back an agreement struck with creditors.
With banks shuttered through the end of the week and the economy grinding to a halt after two weeks of capital controls, Syriza rebels will have a tougher time making their case against any deal with creditors that paves the way for banks to open again.
Greece’s European partners want the reforms proposal on the table by Friday and Athens has promised to produce it on Thursday at the latest. If satisfied, the European leaders would endorse the package on Sunday, averting a potential Greek exit from Europe’s single currency.
Greece emerged last year from a deep recession that shrank its gross domestic product by a quarter over a six-year period, leaving a quarter of the workforce unemployed.
Government sources said proposed tax hikes would include: an increase in corporate tax to 28 percent from 26 percent; a rise in VAT on luxury goods to 13 from 10 percent; a rise in VAT on processed foods, restaurants, transport and some health services offered by the private sector to 23 from 13 percent, and a VAT hike on hotels to 13 percent from 6.5 percent.
Greek islands would continue to enjoy tax breaks that creditors had sought to scrap.