Roundup: Greek professionals welcome tax debts repayment plan, VAT rates reduction

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by Maria Spiliopoulou, Valentini Anagnostopoulou

ATHENS, May 8 (Xinhua) -- Greek professionals welcomed Wednesday a government plan on the repayment of tax arrears and the reduction of VAT rates in coming months as a "long-awaited breath".

Ten years after the start of the Greek debt crisis, although Greece exited the bailouts era last summer, most businesses and households are still struggling with accumulated debts to the state and the repercussions of austerity measures and recession which gripped the economy for many years.

After meeting targets set by international creditors and improving financial indexes, the government now focuses on supporting the real economy, businesses and households, which suffered during the crisis, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Tuesday evening, outlining a series of relief measures.

Among the draft bill, which was tabled in parliament for a vote in coming days, is the plan for the settlement of debts to the state in 120 installments.

It concerns outstanding debts in taxes, social security funds and the local government and is addressed to almost 4 million people in a country with an 11 million population.

These debtors owe approximately 104.4 billion euros (117 billion U.S. dollars) to the tax office, and 38.2 billion euros to insurance funds, according to official data.

The qualifying criteria take into account the taxpayer's annual declared income and foreclosures and auctions of assets will be suspended as long as participants in the plan pay the installments, ministers explained during a press briefing.

"It is a significant intervention. It is an intervention that many people were waiting for relief," Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos said.

"The Greek government proves with actions that the period after August 2018 is a different period for the majority of society," Labor Minister Effie Achtsioglou added.

"It is a very important measure for local administration as well, since according to the latest available data (31-12-2018) debts to municipalities exceed 2.7 billion euros," Interior Minister Alexis Charitsis noted.

The scheme is in the right direction to allow some breathing space for businessmen to move forward, Giorgos Kourassis, General Secretary of the Hellenic Confederation of Professionals, Craftsmen & Merchants (GSEVEE), told Xinhua.

"It is a measure which will give a breath to the economy. The 120 installments are adequate so that people can pay off their debts. About 3.9 million taxpayers are in debt to the tax office and social security funds," Kourassis said.

"The economic crisis is also about psychology. (The plan) will help psychologically businesses to stand on their feet," he explained, adding that subsequently new job positions will be created and the benefits will spread.

"I think it is in the right direction. It is a weapon, a tool helping people settle their debts. Generally, it is a breath for the economy," Andreas Andrianakis, President of the Association of Athens' Restaurateurs, agreed.

Andrianakis also welcomed the reduction of VAT rates for foods and catering services from 24 percent to 13 percent, which was announced by Tsipras on Tuesday and will also be put to vote in the parliament in coming days.

"I believe that the reduction of VAT in the sector will stop a major raise in the price of souvlaki and this is very positive," he said.

The decline of VAT rates will counterbalance the increase of price of souvlaki, one of the most popular traditional fast food choices in Greece, due to the increase on the price of pork meat, which is a main ingredient, he explained.

"We welcome (the measure). We corrected a mistake which was made in 2015. Consumers will benefit by the stabilization of prices," he said.

Four years ago, VAT rates had increased in the framework of efforts to boost tax revenues and meet bailout goals. (1 euro= 1.12 U.S. dollars) Enditem

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