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Greek finmin says IMF contingent measures impossible to legislate

Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos

By George Georgiopoulos

Greece is applying reforms to meet bailout pledges but extra contingency measures demanded by the IMF are impossible to legislate, its finance minister said in a leaked letter to euro zone finance ministers before Monday’s Eurogroup meeting.

The euro zone’s 19 finance ministers will gather in Brussels on Monday, May 9, to discuss Greece’s reform programme and a new set of contingency measures that Athens is asked to adopt to ensure it can achieve agreed fiscal targets in 2018.

A successful conclusion of the bailout review would unlock bailout funds under a financial aid programme, agreed by Greece and euro zone countries in July, and pave the way for debt relief talks.

While Greece’s leftist-led government has mostly reached agreement with its official lenders on a €5.4bn euro package of measures to hit a 3.5 percent primary budget surplus target in 2018, the IMF thinks this will be tough to achieve.

The International Monetary Fund says the package would suffice if the 2018 primary surplus target is cut to 1.5 percent, but that extra savings are needed to attain the 3.5 percent target, pushing for contingency measures worth €3.6bn.

“Any package above 5.4bn is doomed to be seen by Greek citizens and financial analysts … as socially and economically counterproductive,” Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos said in the letter.

“There is no way such a package can be passed by the current government, or by any democratic government that I can imagine.”

The finance ministry had no comment.

Tsakalotos said the two-percentage point difference on the primary surplus target was very large, rendering the IMF’s demands for contingency measures of 2.0 percent of GDP “quite problematic”.

Noting that there is no constitutional way to pass contingency measures in Greece, he said the government would have to legislate steps and promise to annul them if they proved unnecessary.

“Can you imagine going to parliament and instead of an expected package of €5.4bn, (try to pass) one of €9.0bn?” Tsakalotos asked in the letter.

Instead, Athens has offered an automatic mechanism of spending cuts across ministries if the 2018 target starts looking unattainable, to ensure it will be able to meet the agreed fiscal goal set for 2018.

“I believe that such a mechanism, coupled with the reforms package, is more than adequate to close the first bailout review,” Tsakalotos said.

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