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Greek lawmakers approve 2018 budget featuring more austerity

December 19, 2017

Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, checks his notes as the leader of main opposition New Democracy party Kyriakos Mitsotakis leaves the podium during a parliament debate in Athens, on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. Greek lawmakers are set to vote Tuesday on the country's 2018 budget, which includes further austerity measures beyond the official end of Greece's third international bailout next summer. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s parliament on Tuesday approved the 2018 state budget, which includes further austerity measures beyond the official end of the country’s third international bailout next summer.

All 153 lawmakers from the left-led governing coalition backed the budget measures in a late vote, while the 144 opposition lawmakers present rejected them. Three were absent from the vote.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras promised that the country will smoothly exit the eight-year crisis that has seen its economy shrink by a quarter and unemployment hit highs previously unseen during peacetime.

Tsipras argued that international money markets — on whose credit Greece will have to depend once its rescue loan program ends — are showing strong confidence in the country’s prospects, with the yield on Greek government bonds dropping to a pre-crisis low of less than 4 percent.

“The way to exit (the crisis) is for our borrowing costs to return to acceptable levels so the country can finance itself without the restrictive bailout framework,” Tsipras said.

The budget promises Greece’s international lenders continued belt-tightening measures and high primary budget surpluses — the budget balance before debt and interest payments are taken into account.

It sets the primary surplus at 2.44 percent for 2017 and 3.82 percent for 2018, higher than previously estimated. The economy is forecast to grow by 1.6 percent in 2017 and 2.5 percent next year, helped by a return to growth across Europe.

With the Greek economy worth around 185 billion euros ($271 billion) in 2018, the national debt will remain at just under 180 percent of annual GDP, roughly unchanged from the previous year.

Greeks will see new tax hikes and pension cuts over the next two years. Bailout lenders had demanded additional guarantees the Greek economy will be stabilized before considering measures to improve the country’s debt repayment terms.

Opposition parties have criticized the budget, saying it will prolong the pain for Greeks. The main opposition conservative New Democracy party said the budget was “bleeding dry” the Greek people with 1.9 billion euros’ worth of new austerity measures.

Greece’s latest international bailout officially ends in August, more than eight years after the country first began receiving emergency loans from the other European Union countries that use the euro currency and the International Monetary Fund.

In return for the funds, successive governments have had to impose repeated rounds of tax hikes and spending cuts, as well as structural reforms aimed at reforming the country’s moribund economy and making it more competitive.

Tsipras first was elected in 2015 on promises to quickly end the painful austerity. But negotiations with bailout creditors soon went awry and — threatened with a disastrous euro exit — he signed onto more income cuts, increased taxation and further spending cuts.

His governing Syriza party is trailing New Democracy in the polls. But Tsipras insisted Tuesday that the government will see out its mandate, which ends in 2019.

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