Greek PM urges IMF to decide on bailout participation by end of year

Euro zone governments in June approved another 11th-hour credit line for Greece, worth nearly $10 billion.

FILE: Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Picture: AFP.

ATHENS - The International Monetary Fund should decide whether it will fund Greece’s current bailout programme by the end of the year and help Greece conclude a key bailout review on time, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Sunday.

Euro zone governments in June approved another 11th-hour credit line for Greece, worth nearly $10 billion, after the IMF said it would join the country’s current bailout, the third since 2010, in principle.

“We can live with or without the IMF presence,” Tsipras said in a press briefing at a trade fair in Thessaloniki. “What we cannot do is live with the IMF setting one foot in and leaving one foot out.”

The end of the year would be a “reasonable timeframe” for the Fund to decide, he said. Athens intends to wrap up its next bailout review quickly, he said, adding that Greece would be financially independent in 2018.

The euro zone and the IMF have loaned Greece about 260 billion euros ($312.86 billion) since 2010. In return, Greece has imposed austerity measures that have cut its output by a quarter and eliminated thousands of jobs. The lenders review Greece’s progress quarterly before approving loan payouts.

Tsipras’ government and the IMF have often locked horns over Greece’s fiscal progress, its economic targets and reforms in the labour market. Greece adopted more austerity measures for 2019 and 2020 to convince the Fund to join its programme and push for further debt relief.

Tsipras came to power in 2015 promising to end austerity but then signed up to the new bailout, worth 86 billion euros. He said on Sunday the government would assess fiscal progress for 2017 and offer handouts to the vulnerable, if Greece exceeded its targets.

“We ought to be careful in the coming period,” he said. “We need to have a full picture of the economy ... we are above targets and we will make sure that there will be a dividend for the vulnerable, which we will announce at the right time.”

Greece exceeded its goal for a primary budget surplus - which excludes debt servicing - in 2015 and 2016. Last December, Tsipras unexpectedly announced a one-off Christmas bonus to pensioners, angering the country’s lenders. On Sunday, he said any similar move would be made in consultation with the lenders.

Asked about French President Emmanuel Macron’s call for a system to screen investments in strategic sectors from non-EU countries, he said Athens wanted to attract investments both from Europe and from outside the block.

“Right now, our country is thirsty for investments,” he said at the at the Thessaloniki trade fair, which this year is honouring China. “Greece can only benefit when it becomes a bone of contention for investment initiatives.”

China has invested heavily in Greece. It bought a 51 percent stake in Piraeus Port last year and a minority stake in power grid operator, ADMIE, this year.