Greece’s prime minister said on Saturday that he was confident his country would return to growth next year after a brutal six-year recession, and pledged to push for an easing of austerity measures.
International organizations were all predicting next year would be the year the Greek economy began to recover, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said.
“Greece is turning the page on six years of recession and the economy is becoming competitive,” said the conservative prime minister, who has headed a coalition government with the Socialist Party since June last year.
“Last year the international media were all talking about the ‘Grexit’ [from the eurozone], but now that has been replaced by the ‘Grecovery,’” he said.
His comments, at a trade fair in the northern city of Thessaloniki, where some 17,000 people protested against the government’s austerity policies, came amid signs that the extremely deep recession in Greece is easing.
Revised GDP data for the second quarter of the year showed this week that the economy shrank by 3.8 percent year on year.
This was far better than the initial estimate, which showed the economy shrinking by 4.6 percent.
The government has forecast the economy will shrink by 4.3 percent this year before returning to growth next year.
He was optimistic that Greece would, for the first time in years, record a budget surplus this year, excluding debt repayments, Samaras said.
During the first seven months, the surplus reached 1.1 billion euros (US$1.45 billion), he said, adding this would enable the country to negotiate with its creditors, the EU and the IMF.
Greece has received massive rescue funding, tied to tough conditions, to help it overcome a debt crisis which threatened the eurozone.
However, the resulting structural reforms, including an overhaul of its public sector and its tax system, have proved unpopular.
On Saturday, Samaras promised no new austerity measures, saying the economy “cannot take” them any more.
“Debt levels will be manageable, Greece has respected its commitments... Now, the creditors must also respect what was agreed,” he added.
Protests in Thessaloniki, the country’s second-largest city, were organized by private and public sector trade unions General Confederation of Greek Workers and the Civil Servants’ Confederation, who called for “fighting austerity and poverty.”
Police said about 4,500 extra officers had been sent to the city to avert rioting during the four-hour demonstration.
The EU and the IMF recently praised the Greek government’s progress in turning the economy around, but bemoaned delays to a program of privatization and reform, and the fact that the country will likely need further aid next year and in 2015, amounting to about 10 billion euros.