The 2nd review is a ‘turning point’ for Greece, ECON Chair Gualtieri tells ANA

The Eurogroup’s decision for the completion of the 2nd review is a “turning point” for Greece whose importance has been underestimated within the country, the Chair of the European Parliament’s Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) Committee Roberto Gualtieri suggested on Tuesday, in an interview with the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA).

“I have to say that the decision on debt relief has been underestimated – though there must obviously be greater clarity – but it is already a step forward in comparison with the conclusion of the previous review in May 2016,” he said.

The completion of the review will boost the markets’ confidence in the future of the Greek economy, he added, with positive repercussions for investments and growth.

Asked to comment on a statement made by European Central Bank (ECB) President President Mario Draghi in reply to Greek MEP Nikos Chountis about Greece’s inclusion in quantitative easing, Gualtieri said that its importance, by contrast, had been overrated.

“Draghi simply said that the Eurogroup’s decision on the debt was a step forward and that the ECB needs further clarification on the measures. He did not say that additional measures were needed, only that they were included too briefly in the announcement for [the ECB] to make its own assessment.”

The ECB president did not say that Greece will not be included in QE, Gualtieri added, only that a number of requirements did not exist at this time. “…he did not say they will not exist in the future. We have to be more careful when reading this letter, which is only a repetition of what he has said in the past and what he will continue saying until the required conditions exist. He did not say that these conditions will not be achieved,” the ECON chair added.

Asked about the results of his meetings in Athens, Gualtieri said it has been a good mission and expressed satisfaction with its findings. “We saw an improved economic situation but also as a general feeling that shows we are near the end of the tunnel after many difficult years.”

The difference with his previous visits “is precisely that we have significant improvements, we have the completion of two important European reviews and, with the second, with have the sense that the way is opening for debt relief,” Gualtieri said.

Among the positive signs he included the surpassing of primary surplus targets, saying they indicated an improvement in the country’s ability to collect taxes and stamp out tax evasion and tax avoidance – which were necessary for Greece to improve its economy and lower taxes.

“The situation could have been better without the delays in the completion of the review, because the uncertainty about the review restricted private investment, but now we are already seeing positive figures for this year and the next,” he added.

He emphasised the importance of structural reforms to improve the Greek economy, and said he expected improvements in the growth rate and unemployment rate in the near future.

“I hope that Greece will return to the markets, exit the programme and continue working to improve governance, its productive structure and to face the challenges of globalisation with a competitive economy, on the one hand, and social cohesion on the other hand. Both are needed,” he said, noting that a return to the markets could happen soon, possibly as soon as this year, given the current situation.

At a later press conference summing up the results of the mission to Athens, Gualtieri repeated that Greece might return to the markets as early as the current year, while noting that a successful conclusion of the 3rd review of the programme and continued implementation of reforms will play a significant role in restoring Greece’s permanent and sustainable access to money markets.

Replying to an ANA question, he said the current economic figures might be even better if the review had ended earlier, while blaming the delays on the conditions imposed by Europeans for the participation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which then set conditions of its own.

“We denounced this but the price was the advance legislation of reforms, but also positive measures,” he said, saying there were encouraging signs that Greece will meet the 3.5 pct primary surplus target in 2018, and thus implement the positive measures.

The press conference was also attended by Greek MEP and European Parliament Vice President Dimitris Papadimoulis, who accompanied the ECON delegation. He said that the delegation’s members, who came from the entire political spectrum, had all seen notable progress in Greek economic figures, as well as in the economic climate and prospects. A decisive step had been taken and it was now crucial to complete the 3rd review without delay, he added.