ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece will exit successfully its bailout program in 2018 helped by strong growth, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Saturday, vowing to support workers, young Greeks and small businesses as the economy recovers.
Addressing a Greek public worn out by austerity and skeptical after years of reform efforts have failed to fix the country’s woes, Tsipras said his leftist-led government would do whatever it takes to end lenders’ supervision next year.
“The country, after eight whole years, will have exited bailouts and suffocating supervision. That’s our aim,” Tsipras said in his annual policy speech in the northern city of Thessaloniki. “We are determined to do everything we can.”
Greece’s current international bailout, worth 86 billion euros, expires next year. Tsipras’ term ends a year later.
Tsipras said Athens would continue to outperform its fiscal targets and fight endemic tax evasion to create fiscal room for tax cuts that would alleviate the burden on businesses and households, long squeezed by the debt crisis.
Greece has received about 260 billion euros in bailout aid from its eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund since 2010 in return for draconian austerity which has wiped out a quarter of its output and cut tens of thousands of jobs.
Unemployment stood at 21.2 percent in June, the euro zone’s highest, with young Greeks the hardest hit.
Greece’s economy is expected to grow by about two percent in 2018, a sign that sacrifices are bearing fruit, Tsipras said outlining initiatives to boost employment and fight a brain drain.
A march of thousands of workers was largely peaceful outside the venue where he spoke.
Tsipras said the state would give financial incentives to employers to hire more younger workers and spend 156 million euros to subsidize social security contributions of employers who will turn contractors into full-time staff.
Unregistered work and contract jobs have increased during the debt crisis, as businesses are desperate to cut costs.
The government will also pay 100 million euros to subsidize unpaid workers in struggling sectors and businesses, he said, promising to fight labor law violations.
The 43-year old leader, whose Syriza party is sagging in opinion polls, was catapulted to power in 2015 promising to end the belt-tightening and tear up the bailouts. After months of tough talks with lenders, he signed up to a new bailout in exchange for further austerity.
Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Gareth Jones