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A debt restructuring in 2012 required private sector bondholders to forgive some €100 billion, but the prospect that Greece's creditors will share the pain this time is essentially off the table. As the eurozone teeters on the brink of recession once again, member states, particularly Germany, are in no mood to ask their taxpayers to incur losses.
Greece's aim, instead, is to reduce the cost of servicing its debt through lower interest rates or longer maturities. ''Our debt is big, but it's also very long term, so it's easily serviceable,'' Mr. Hardouvelis said.
He added that the government planned to tap international markets with a new bond issue in the coming weeks, the third round of fund-raising in three months after four years during which financial markets were essentially closed to Greece.
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Problems in the broader eurozone -- stagnation in Italy and France and political jousting over the continued fiscal discipline championed by Germany -- may now favor Greece, Mr. Hardouvelis said, smiling apologetically at the irony. The eurozone's slump, he said, ''necessitates an expansionary monetary policy, which keeps interest rates down and keeps borrowing costs down.''
When troika inspectors arrive in Athens, Greece's budget will once again come under a microscope. Mr. Hardouvelis bristles at the suggestion that inspectors might take a hard line, noting that foreign auditors originally doubted Greece's predictions of a primary surplus, only to be proved wrong in the spring. ''I hope this has taught them a lesson, and they don't insist so much on the fiscal side,'' he said, noting that a Greek recovery would be undercut by any ''new, onerous targets.''
Mr. Hardouvelis, the son of farmer from a small fishing village in Greece's southern Peloponnese peninsula, said he was sensitive to the social effects of the long siege of austerity. And despite his Harvard pedigree -- he went there on a scholarship -- Mr. Hardouvelis makes it clear he does not consider himself part of the entitled Greek political elite.
''I understand what unemployment is,'' said Mr. Hardouvelis, 58, who is married with two children, one still a student, the other doing his obligatory military service. ''I didn't have a dad who would send me $1,000 a month to make it at college.''
Greeks are overtaxed, he said, but he added that tax relief would need to be preceded by growth. There may be action, though, to temper some ''extreme cases'' -- like a tax on heating oil, which has fallen short of revenue targets while having a negative effect on the environment because Greeks have turned to burning wood to heat their homes.
Mr. Hardouvelis contends that the current government is leading a more ''mature'' society and that the lackluster results of anti-bailout opposition parties in elections to the European Parliament in May signal a public realization that there is no viable alternative to the country's living within its means -- however meager for now.
''Greeks don't buy promises anymore,'' he said. ''They know they will be the ones that have to finance them.''