Greeks to see no tax relief until budget improves

Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, left and his Irish counterpart Enda Kenny wave to the media prior to their meeting at Maximos Mansion in Athens, Thursday, May 23, 2013. Samaras said that Greece would follow the “same successful model” as Ireland both of the EU presidency and to exit the crisis. Ireland’s EU presidency will finish in the end of June. Greece is scheduled to take over the EU's rotating six-month presidency in January 2014. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Greece's conservative-led government can't lower taxes before the public deficit falls further, the prime minister said Thursday, but he pledged to eventually slash the corporate tax rate to a flat 15 percent.

Antonis Samaras made the promise at a meeting in Athens with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, whose country holds the European Union's rotating presidency.

Greece has imposed a series of emergency taxes and spending cuts in exchange for international bailout loans, but the measures hurt economic growth and caused a surge in unemployment and poverty.

Samaras described Ireland as a model for Greece in repairing its public finances.

"We will follow the exactly the same successful example set by Ireland — both for the EU presidency and an exit from the crisis," Samaras said.

"It has been my stated aim for years now that I want a unified rate, a flat-rate tax of 15 percent. As we reach our targets that moment draws closer."

Corporate profits are currently taxed at a minimum of 26 percent.

Kenny called his fellow conservative as "a voice of reality and a voice of progress" in Europe, and repeated his assurance that Ireland would complete its bailout program by the end of the year.

Greece's program end in 2016.

Later Thursday, about 10,000 people joined a peaceful protest march in central Athens to demand the renewal of collective labor agreements that expire this year. Rescue lenders want the government to set a minimum wage across labor categories — effectively canceling the existing practice of negotiated collective pay agreements between unions and employers for different sectors of the economy.

Greece's minimum wage was cut last year to 684 euros ($880) per month, according to figures kept by the EU statistics agency, Eurostat.