Greece sends reform plan to EU promising new tax hikes
ATHENS / FRANKFURT - Reuters
Protesters hold European Union and Greek flags during a Pro-Euro rally in front of the parliament building in Athens, Greece, July 9, 2015. Reuters PhotoThe Greek government sent a package of reform proposals to its euro zone creditors on July 9 in a race to win new funds to avert bankruptcy and will seek a parliamentary vote on July 10 to endorse immediate actions.
In the latest proposals, Greece has asked for 53.5 billion euros ($59 billion) to help cover its debts until 2018, a review of primary surplus targets and "reprofiling" the country's long-term debt.
In turn, Athens bowed to demands to phase out tax breaks for its islands -- cash cows for the tourism industry -- and to hike taxes on shipping companies.
The chairman of Eurogroup finance ministers confirmed receiving the documents but will not comment until they have been assessed by experts from the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund. U.S. stock futures jumped 1 percent in early Asian trade on the announced measures.
Greek lawmakers will be asked on July 10 to authorise the leftist government to negotiate a list of "prior actions" it would take before any fresh aid funds are disbursed, a key step to convince sceptical lenders of its serious intent.
Leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras spent the day with his cabinet drafting a last-ditch package of measures on which Greece's survival in the euro zone hinges.
A further vote would be needed to turn them into law if euro zone leaders agree at a summit on July 12 that the proposals are a basis for starting negotiations on a three-year loan and releasing some bridging funds to keep Greece afloat.
In a sign of possible trouble ahead, the head of Tsipras's junior coalition ally -- which has threatened to pull the plug on the government if the island tax breaks were scrapped -- did not add his signature to the reform proposals. Neither did Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, who leads the far-left flank of the ruling Syriza party.
The latest offer also included defence spending cuts, a firm timetable for privatising state assets such as Piraeus port and regional airports, hikes in VAT for hotels and restaurants and slashing a top-up payment for poorer pensioners.
Greek banks have been closed since June 29, when capital controls were imposed and cash withdrawals rationed after the collapse of previous bailout talks. Greece defaulted on an IMF loan repayment the following day and now faces a critical July 20 bond redemption to the ECB of 3.49 billion euros, which it cannot make without aid.
The country has had two bailouts worth 240 billion euros from the euro zone and the IMF since 2010, but its economy has shrunk by a quarter, unemployment is more than 25 percent and one in two young people is out of work.
Germany, Athens biggest creditor, meanwhile made a small concession by acknowledging that Greece will need some debt restructuring as part of the new programme to make its public finances viable in the medium-term.
The admission by hardline German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble came hours before the midnight deadline for Athens to submit its reform plan.
Schaeuble, who makes no secret of his doubts about Greece's fitness to remain in the currency area, told a conference in Frankfurt: "Debt sustainability is not feasible without a haircut and I think the IMF is correct in saying that."
But he added: "There cannot be a haircut because it would infringe the system of the European Union."
He offered no solution to the conundrum, which implied that Greece's debt problem might not be soluble within the euro zone.
But he did say there was limited scope for "reprofiling" Greek debt by extending loan maturities, shaving interest rates and lengthening a moratorium on debt service payments.
Debt relief chorus
European Council President Donald Tusk, who will chair an emergency euro zone summit on July 12 to decide Greece's fate, joined growing international calls for Athens to be granted some form of debt relief as part of any new loan deal.
Tusk said a realistic proposal from Greece will have to be matched by an equally realistic proposal on debt sustainability from the creditors.
"Otherwise, we will continue the lethargic dance we have been dancing for the past five months," he said.
Failure to reach a deal on July 12, including releasing some money to enable Athens to cover debt service over the next few weeks, could lead to a collapse of Greek banks next week.
If there is no agreement, all 28 European Union leaders will discuss measures to limit the damage from a Greek collapse, including humanitarian aid, possible border controls and steps to mitigate the impact on neighbours, EU officials said.
Just how uncertain the coming days are was highlighted when ECB President Mario Draghi voiced highly unusual doubts about the chances of rescuing Greece.
Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore quoted the ECB chief, under growing fire in Germany for keeping Greek banks afloat, as saying he was not sure a solution would be found for Greece and he did not believe Russia would come to Athens' rescue.
Asked if a deal to save Greece could be wrapped up, Draghi said: "I don't know, this time it's really difficult."
The ECB is keeping shuttered Greek banks afloat with emergency liquidity capped until the weekend.
Under the agreed timetable, the three creditor institutions will deliver their initial assessment by July 10 evening. If it is broadly positive, Eurogroup finance ministers will decide on July 11 whether to recommend opening negotiations with Athens on a conditional loan from the European Stability Mechanism bailout fund.
The decision requires the assent of countries representing 80 percent of the ESM's capital, so talks can go ahead even if one or two smaller member states vote against it.
Having won a thumping referendum majority to reject the austerity terms of a previous bailout plan, fired his turbulent finance minister and secured support from opposition party leaders, Tsipras is in a stronger position to impose tough measures and face down resistance at home.