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Greek leader prods EU for greater focus on growth

The prime minister of Greece, Antonis Samaras (left), with Italian Premier Enrico Letta, said Monday that austerity policies are hurting his country’s efforts to reduce debt.
ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images
The prime minister of Greece, Antonis Samaras (left), with Italian Premier Enrico Letta, said Monday that austerity policies are hurting his country’s efforts to reduce debt.

ATHENS — Greece’s prime minister on Monday urged European leaders to shift economic policies toward generating growth, as the country’s bailout monitors complained it was making ‘‘slow progress’’ on key long-term reforms.

Antonis Samaras warned Greece’s recession was hurting the government’s efforts to reduce debt. But Samaras, who held talks in Athens with Italian Premier Enrico Letta, said a recovery would not be possible unless the group of 17 European Union countries that use the euro emerges from recession.

‘‘Greece, Italy, and all of Europe are in need of policies that combine reforms and deficit reduction with growth,’’ Samaras said. ‘‘Of course we cannot have growth while Europe is retreating into recession.’’

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The eurozone has been in recession for 18 months, while Greece’s economy has been contracting rapidly since late 2008 and remains in serious crisis.

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Greece’s public finances have been kept afloat since 2010 by a rescue loan program funded by eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund set to total $319 billion. But austerity reforms demanded in return for the money have triggered a dramatic increase in poverty and unemployment.

On Monday, the European Commission, the EU executive branch that helps monitor the bailout program, recommended disbursement of a $3.32 billion rescue loan payment to Greece in days. And the IMF separately said it has approved release of $2.28 billion under the same program.

But the European Commission also said Greece was still lagging behind in its effort to reform public administration, business rules, power utilities, and its justice system.

Letta appeared to agree with Samaras that bailout lenders were too focused on debt cuts rather than growth. ‘‘Fewer European jobs would have been lost if Europe had taken a different position toward Greece from the start,’’ he said.