ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece’s economy will grow by about 2 percent this year and unemployment will ease further in 2018, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Tuesday, in an attempt to show the country was turning a page after seven years in crisis.
Athens concluded a bailout review in June and returned to bond markets for the first time in three years in July. Its third, 86-billion-euro, bailout expires in 2018.
“The projections that 2017 will end with growth rates close to 2 percent will be confirmed,” Tsipras said during a speech at the plant of tobacco company Papastratos.
Athens had projected the economy would expand by 1.8 percent this year, revising downwards a 2.7 percent forecast. The EU Commission sees growth at 2.1 percent and the International Monetary Fund at 2.2 percent.
The leftist-led government is sagging in opinion polls and wants to exploit the positive momentum to show Greeks the end of the crisis is approaching as a new round of talks with lenders, the EU and the IMF on a third bailout review looms.
Tsipras said a new state development bank aimed at funding small- and medium-sized businesses, starved of financing by commercial banks, will be operational in the first quarter of 2018.
He also said unemployment, now at 21.7 percent, was set to fall below 20 percent next year and the government was determined to fight labor law violations - a sensitive issue for his leftist party Syriza.
Informal work in Greece has increased during the crisis, fuelled by both cash-strapped businesses trying to save on pension contributions and desperation among job-seekers.
“There cannot be viable growth if we don’t support the main ring in the chain of production - the worker,” Tsipras said.
The government is expected to submit to parliament a bill on labor issues later on Tuesday.
Reporting by Renee Maltezou and Angeliki Koutantou; Editing by Janet Lawrence