BERLIN Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras wants international lenders to give his indebted country more time to complete reforms that have been demanded as a condition for financial aid, he told Germany's Bild newspaper.
Samaras, who meets Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday and French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel later this week, said that would help Greece return to growth.
Samaras, leading a country in its fifth year of recession at a time when social and political discontent are rising, is keen to soften the impact of budget cuts on society by seeking more time to push through his reforms.
"Let me be very explicit: we demand no additional money. We stand by our commitments and by fulfilling all our requirements. We have to crank up growth because that decreases the financial gaps," Samaras told Bild newspaper's Wednesday edition. "All we want is a bit of 'air to breathe' to get the economy running and to increase state income. More time does not automatically mean more money."
Samaras had been expected to lobby for Greece to be given two more years to get its budget deficit below three percent of GDP - currently scheduled for end-2014 - but he did not say how much more time he wanted. The deficit was 9.3 percent of GDP in 2011.
Samaras said Greece, which has been bailed out twice, was making progress on the tough reforms that creditors have demanded but acknowledged much had gone wrong in the past.
"We will soon have a smaller, healthier and significantly more efficient public service," he said.
"We are making progress, we are reducing the overall number of public servants and I have decided to hire only one person for every 10 retired civil servants."
The bulk of the cuts are expected to come from reductions in spending on pensions, social benefits, public sector wages and health system costs, including the firing of up to 40,000 civil servants.
A Greek exit from the euro zone, which many politicians in Germany and elsewhere have talked about recently, would be a nightmare for Greece and would reduce the standard of living by a further 70 percent, Samaras said.
"It would mean at least five more years of recession and unemployment would rise above 40 percent. A nightmare for Greece: economic collapse, social unrest and an unseen crisis of democracy."
(Reporting by Annika Breidthardt, editing by Tim Pearce)