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Greek Coalition Outlines Plan to Renegotiate Loan Deal

The Parthenon, illuminated at night, sits at the top of Acropolis hill in Athens, Greece, on Monday, Feb. 13, 2012.
Bloomberg
The Parthenon, illuminated at night, sits at the top of Acropolis hill in Athens, Greece, on Monday, Feb. 13, 2012.

Two days before Greece’s international creditors return to Athens to begin talks on keeping the nearly bankrupt country solvent, the new coalition government on Saturday highlighted the main points it plans to renegotiate with lenders, aiming to revoke certain taxes, suspend planned layoffs in the bloated public sector and extend by two years the deadline for imposing additional austerity measures.

A joint policy statement issued by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, a conservative, and his coalition partners — Evangelos Venizelos, chief of the socialist Pasok party, and Fotis Kouvelis, leader of the moderate Democratic Left party — summarized the new government’s chief aim as “tackling the crisis, opening the road to growth and revising the terms of the loan deal without putting at risk the country’s European course or its continued presence in the euro zone.”

The initiative is aimed at easing public opposition to two years of austerity, which led to big vote tallies in last Sunday’s elections for parties opposed to the $170 billion bailout and obliged the more established parties to forge a tenuous coalition. But some of the goals set out in the document are unlikely to please Greece’s creditors, the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, whose officials have repeatedly said in recent weeks that there was only marginal room for maneuvering, with an extension of the deadline for meeting fiscal deficit targets the only likely concession.

The chief priorities highlighted in the policy statement — the product of several days of tense negotiations between the coalition parties — include the extension of Greece’s “fiscal adjustment period” by at least two years, to 2016, so that fiscal targets can be met without further cuts to salaries and pensions.

The blueprint also aims to revoke changes to collective bargaining agreements in the private sector and to ease the burden on taxpayers by ensuring that they pay no more than 25 percent of their income in overdue obligations.

Party leaders also want to cancel planned layoffs in the public sector — the three lenders had called for 150,000 jobs to go by 2015 — and to reduce the value-added tax on food to 13 percent from 23 percent.

Higher taxes, lower wages and soaring unemployment, which has hit 22 percent, have crippled Greek households and raised public support for anti-bailout parties like the leftist Syriza, which came in second in last week’s elections on a pledge to tear up the loan deal, and which dismissed the coalition’s efforts to win over the public as a “publicity stunt,” saying that it will ultimately honor the debt deal.

The development came amid health emergencies within the fragile government. Vassilis Rapanos, 65, the finance minister-designate and chairman of Greece’s largest lender, National Bank, remained hospitalized on Saturday after being admitted on Friday with stomach pains and nausea. State television quoted doctors as saying on Saturday that Mr. Rapanos was stable, attributing his symptoms to extreme fatigue or a possible virus.

Meanwhile, Mr. Samaras, 61, underwent surgery on Saturday for a detached retina that was diagnosed on Friday. State television said he was recovering but would stay in the hospital through Sunday. It was not clear when Mr. Rapanos would be sworn in; he did not attend a swearing-in ceremony with the remaining cabinet on Thursday.

It was equally unclear whether Mr. Samaras would be fit to travel to a crucial European Union leaders’ summit meeting in Brussels on Thursday, where Greece’s loan deal was expected to dominate the agenda.

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