By V. Kostoulas
European Commissioner Pierre Moscovici concluded numerous meetings and appearances in Athens this week by emphasizing that Greece is a sovereign state that imposes the taxes it wants, when asked by "N" over the harsh fiscal policy followed by the Tsipras government in order to meet memorandum-mandated targets.
In an interview with "N" at the end of his two-day visit to the Greek capital on Tuesday and following high-level contacts with the country's leadership, he also recognized that much more needs to be done in terms of boosting entrepreneurship and attracting investments.
"...the second review is ongoing, good progress was made, there are still some adjustments that need to be made in order to reach a staff-level agreement between all the institutions... it is perfectly feasible (to conclude the review by Dec. 5) and that's the message I carried here (Athens)," he said, while declining to comment on what reforms remain pending.
Asked if the current Greek government has "taken possession of the program", an oft-repeated catchphrase question over the years to gauge whether successive Greek governments are seriously implementing structural reforms and meeting targets, he responded: "Yes, undoubtedly, things have changed dramatically since July 2015".
Moreover, in a biting remark aimed at the controversial former Greek finance minister, he said that "under the ministry of Mr. (Yanis) Varoufakis we could never negotiate".
"This government really delivers..." he immediately added.
Moscovici said there is "no alternative" to the IMF's participation in the Greek program, saying the Fund is a guarantee for both Greece and its creditors.
Moreover, Moscovici was asked exactly where he bases his optimism over the med-term outlook for Greek economy, given skyrocketing arrears by the private sector to the state (above 92 billion euros), NPLs worth more than 50 percent of GDP, a paltry return of deposits to Greek banks and growing unemployment, with a 15-year record of 83,000 jobless added to official rolls in October 2016.
"My optimism is not the optimism of fantasy, our forecast, as with other institutions, show that there should be growth of something like 2.7 percent in Greece in 2017, or a bit more in 2018.... After all these efforts, they start to bear fruit; confidence is coming back and the structures are sounder," he said, noting that he broached the issue of NPLs with both the government and Greek bank leaderships.
Queried over the "policy mix" followed by the Athens, especially the trend to impose ever higher direct and indirect taxes in order to meet fiscal adjustment, the influential economic and financial affairs Commissioner said the issue of tax rates fell in the domain of national sovereignty. Nevertheless, he admitted business leaders he met expressed concern over the situation.
"The adjustment had to be serious because we did not invent the crisis, we did not create the crisis, the crisis is not imposed by authority... efforts needed to be made before, because the crisis was pre existing," he stressed.
In terms of Germany's standing and very prominent opposition to any medium-debt relief for Greece prior to a successful conclusion of the third bailout in mid 2018, the French Commissioner said it's possible that the "design of medium-term measures that have to be implemented after (2018), so there could be a compromise there". He said he "hopes" this prospect materializes.
"...I think we just need to do what is fair, and if the problem exists (debt load), we've got to address it; and obviously the problem exists".
He also cautioned for a step-by-step approach, with conclusion of the staff-level agreement coming first this week, followed by next week's Eurogroup.