Greece approves more austerity

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s parliament on Tuesday approved the 2018 state budget, which includes further austerity measures beyond the official end of the country’s third international bailout next summer.

All 153 lawmakers from the left-led governing coalition backed the budget measures in a late vote, while the 144 opposition lawmakers present rejected them. Three were absent from the vote.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras promised that the country will smoothly exit the eight-year crisis that has seen its economy shrink by a quarter and unemployment hit highs previously unseen during peacetime.

Tsipras argued that international money markets — on whose credit Greece will have to depend once its rescue loan program ends — are showing strong confidence in the country’s prospects, with the yield on Greek government bonds dropping to a pre-crisis low of less than 4 percent.

“The way to exit (the crisis) is for our borrowing costs to return to acceptable levels so the country can finance itself without the restrictive bailout framework,” Tsipras said.

The budget promises Greece’s international lenders continued belt-tightening measures and high primary budget surpluses — the budget balance before debt and interest payments are taken into account.

It sets the primary surplus at 2.44 percent for 2017 and 3.82 percent for 2018, higher than previously estimated. The economy is forecast to grow by 1.6 percent in 2017 and 2.5 percent next year, helped by a return to growth across Europe.

With the Greek economy worth around $271 billion in 2018, the national debt will remain at just under 180 percent of annual GDP, roughly unchanged from the previous year.

Greeks will see new tax hikes and pension cuts over the next two years.