EU official hopeful that Greek bailout talks can conclude this week

The bailout talks between Greece and its creditors could wrap up as soon as this week, one of the European Union's top economy officials said Monday, after weeks of tough negotiations between the two sides over reforms.

The creditors are currently reviewing progress under Greece's third, 86-billion-euro (98-billion-dollar) bailout.

Negotiators from the European Commission, the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the eurozone's bailout fund are in Athens trying to find agreement with the Greek government on future reforms, notably on pensions.

An agreement would allow bailout aid to continue flowing to the country and would pave the way for a highly anticipated discussion on Greek debt relief.

Ideally, a technical deal between the negotiators should be reached "before the end of this week," EU Economy Commissioner Pierre Moscovici told the European Parliament's economic and monetary affairs committee in the French city of Strasbourg on Monday evening.

"This calendar would allow us ideally to reach an endorsement at the informal Eurogroup meeting next week, followed by two to three weeks to complete the draft legislative texts and the process of parliamentary approval, which would allow for the review to be finalized at the beginning of May," he said.

The Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers is due to hold informal talks in Amsterdam on April 22. The Greek bailout is also expected to be discussed by its stakeholders on the margins of high-level IMF and World Bank meetings that get underway in Washington on Friday.

Greece and its creditors are under pressure to reach a deal to avoid another near-bankruptcy in the country. Its liquidity situation is currently "manageable," but "this cannot last indefinitely and I would not want us to end up in a dead end," Moscovici warned.

"We have no time to lose," he added.

The negotiations in Athens had originally been expected to end on Sunday evening, but were extended by 24 hours, according to the commissioner.

Greek Finance Minister Euklid Tsakalotos was visibly exhausted on Monday morning after he emerged from overnight talks with the creditors, private broadcaster Skai reported.

The situation grew so complicated on Sunday that the governor of Greece's central bank, Ioannis Stournaras, was called in overnight and took part in the talks for two hours, state television reported.

The creditors and Greek officials are trying to agree on the measures Athens must implement in order to save 5.4 billion euros and thereby gain access to another tranche of bailout aid. The controversial measures include tax hikes, laws on bad loans and pension reforms.

It remains to be seen what concessions Greece is prepared to make, as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sent a strong message against further cuts in a joint statement Monday with his Portuguese counterpart and fellow Socialist Antonio Costa.

The two leaders, both of whom are under pressure from the EU to limit public spending, said that the bloc must abandon its push for austerity, calling instead for "a progressive Europe with social fairness."

"With the growth of poverty and social inequality, our countries and Europe face a long period of economic stagnation," Tsipras and Costa said.

The Munich-based Ifo economics institute charged Athens on Monday with stalling on agreed financial reforms.

"The requirements of the third bailout package for Greece have only been tackled half-heartedly in the last seven months; and yet the new money is being spent," said Niklas Potrafke, head of the institute's centre for public finance.

But Moscovici spoke of "significant progress" in Athens. European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis also downplayed media reports about disagreements between Greece's European creditors and the IMF.

"We are working in a very constructive spirit and if there are some differences in assessments, we believe that those differences are bridgeable," Dombrovskis said in Strasbourg.

On Sunday night, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble had called on Greece to fulfill the requirements for further aid.

"We will find a solution in the coming weeks, but it will have nothing to do with cancelling debt," Schaeuble told Germany's public broadcaster ARD, adding that Athens needed to do more to improve its economic competitiveness.

Interest rates have already been deferred for 10 years, the minister said, and the loans would have a duration of up to 35 years.

"We are helping Greece," Schaeuble said. "We are buying them time. We will also find a solution this time."

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49
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