After bailouts, Greece wants easier budget targets

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Kyriakos Mitsotakis

Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis addresses lawmakers during a parliamentary session to present his government’s policies in Athens, Saturday, July 20, 2019.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s new conservative government said it wants to ease tough budget restrictions set by bailout lenders two years ahead of schedule, as lawmakers on Monday formally confirmed the new administration.

Government spokesman Stelios Petsas said Athens will seek negotiations with creditors next year to lower targets for Greece’s primary surplus, the annual budget balance before debt costs.

“We are determined to boost confidence in the economy by proceeding swiftly with real reforms under our ownership,” he told parliament. “In 2020, we will request from our partners the reduction of primary surpluses to more realistic levels.”

Petsas spoke before lawmakers voted 158-142 to confirm Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ government formed after July 7 general elections.

Greece pledged under the previous government to maintain primary surpluses worth 3.5% of gross domestic product through 2022. Lenders say that level is key to keeping Greece’s high national debt sustainable and have appeared cool to the idea of renegotiating the targets.

The issue was discussed in Athens last week at meetings between the senior representatives of creditor institutions and ministers from the new government.

Lawmakers voted following a three-day debate, during which Mitsotakis and his ministers outlined major upcoming legislative initiatives.

Mitsotakis, 51, promised to introduce tax cut legislation and to scrap longstanding rules that limit police access to university campuses.

The government also plans to speed up privatizations plans, clear regulations blocking major investments, and toughen detention and deportation policies for migrants whose asylum applications are rejected.

The general election was held nearly a year after Greece’s three successive bailout programs ended.

“It is our obligation to send a message of optimism — a message that, at last, something will change,” Mitsotakis said.

New governments in Greece must be confirmed by a vote of confidence after lawmakers are seated in the new session of parliament.

Mitsotakis’ New Democracy party has 158 seats in the 300-member parliament.

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