Tsipras promises quick reforms as bailout clock ticks down


Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras promised Monday to quickly meet the demands of his country’s international creditors, as eurozone finance ministers called for swift action to rebuild trust in Athens.

“We have to bite the bullet,” Tsipras on Monday evening told the Greek parliament, where he presented his new government’s programme.

He was expected to submit a 2016 budget with spending cuts that adheres closely to the bailout conditions agreed in tough negotiations with the creditors over the summer.

Tsipras has also said he wants to overhaul the tax system to combat undeclared incomes, support the pension system and re-capitalize the country’s ailing banks.

His SYRIZA party and junior coalition partner Independent Greeks control 155 seats in the 300-seat legislature, and the budget is expected to be approved.

Tsipras’ SYRIZA party was re-elected in snap elections last month, called by the party leader to renew his mandate after signing an 86-billion-euro (97-billion-dollar) bailout deal that included cost-cutting measures he had promised to roll back. The poll saw the lowest electoral turnout in Greece in more than 50 years.

Meeting the creditors’ demands is the only way for Greece to get out of its economic crisis, Tsipras argued in parliament. He said it would not be easy, but the premier hopes to negotiate debt relief with the creditors once their conditions are fulfilled.

The country has already received 13 billion euros out of the new bailout programme, with another 3 billion euros supposed to be disbursed in the coming months in exchange for further reforms.

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who heads the Eurogroup panel of eurozone finance ministers, pointed on Monday to the need for pension and labour-market reforms.

“A lot of work will have to be done in the coming months, so it’s very important to maintain that strong reform momentum,” he said following a meeting by the ministers in Luxembourg. “Maintaining that attitude of reform is crucial to regain trust inside and outside Greece, so crucial for economic recovery.”

He expressed hope that Greece will deliver on a first set of bailout conditions by mid-October, unlocking a 2-billion-euro tranche.

A further set of “milestones” to be met for accessing 1 billion euros should then also be agreed this month, the Eurogroup chief said.

Those actions would pave the way for creditor experts to assess Greece’s overall progress on the bailout. Only after this could discussions on debt begin, Dijsselbloem warned.

EU Economy Commissioner Pierre Moscovici expressed hope that this progress check could be completed by the end of November. But such bailout reviews have proven contentious and lengthy in the past.

“I’m confident because I think this government is now very conscious that there is no alternative than fulfilling the commitments that have been taken with the European Union in order to be capable of benefiting from the huge funds that are in the [bailout] programme,” Moscovici said.

“There are one, two points that are delayed because of the new elections … But as such the course taken is right,” Austrian Finance Minister Hans Joerg Schelling added.

The Greek parliament is due to hold a three-day debate about the new government programme, followed by a confidence vote on Wednesday.

The parliament has elected a new speaker, long-time SYRIZA party member and former interior minister Nikos Voutsis, who is expected to bring a more conciliatory tone to the legislature after his predecessor Zoe Konstantopoulou’s occasionally combative style.