The International Monetary Fund does not wish to slap “draconian measures” on hard-up Greece but wants more government progress on pension reform, IMF chief Christine Lagarde said Thursday.
Lagarde spoke as Greece was hit by a general strike that brought tens of thousands of people into the streets in protest over pension reforms, a key part of Greece’s latest economic bailout by the European Union.
“I really don’t like it when we’re portrayed as this draconian, rigorous, terrible IMF,” Lagarde said in an online news conference.
“We don’t want draconian measures to apply to Greece, which has already made a lot of sacrifices.”
But she insisted that the Greek reform program has to keep on track, notably on pension reforms, a key issue in negotiations between the government and its creditors. According to Lagarde, the current pension system, which costs the equivalent of 10 percent of the Greek economy annually, is not sustainable and should undergo a profound overhaul. In Europe, the average pension ratio is 2.5 percent of gross domestic product, she noted.
The Europeans and the IMF have contested certain parts of the reform measures proposed by Athens, sparking the general strike Thursday.
Pension reforms were part of the conditions imposed by the IMF for it to participate in the EU bailout of Greece last July. The crisis lender, which joined with the European Commission and the European Central Bank in the two prior bailouts of Greece, has not decided whether to join the latest one.
The IMF is calling for reforms by Athens and for the Europeans to ease the country’s debt burden.
“The pension system needs to be reformed, the tax-collection system needs to be improved so that revenues come in and evasion is stopped,” Lagarde said. “And the debt relief by the other Europeans must accompany this process.”