Eurogroup chief says Greece has made "too little" progress on reforms

Eurozone finance ministers dialed up the pressure Friday for Greece to deliver economic reforms, with Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem warning that "too little" was done over the summer break.

"That excuse is now gone, so let's pack up the camping gear and get back to work," Dijsselbloem told journalists in Bratislava, where the minister met on Friday morning. "The pressure is back on."

Greece has to implement economic reforms in exchange for billions of euros in bailout aid it is receiving to remain solvent.

Another 2.8 billion euros (3.2 billion dollars) are in line to be disbursed by the eurozone bailout fund, but Athens first has to deliver reforms in areas including privatization, bank governance and the energy sector.

Greece had agreed with its creditors to hit 15 milestones in September, but has only completed two so far, EU Economy Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said in Bratislava.

"More progress is needed and we strongly encourage the Greek government as a whole to speed up the implementation of the remaining milestones," Dijsselbloem said after the Eurogroup meeting.

Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos assured his colleagues during the talks that the milestones will be completed by the end of September, according to Moscovici.

The commissioner said he believes this is "still feasible," noting that Greek authorities have started to "intensify their efforts" in recent days.

The 2.8-billion-euro tranche is available for Greece until the end of October. Thereafter, its release by the eurozone bailout fund would require a new political decision.

Officials hope that a completion of the milestones and the release of the funds would help secure by the end of the year the involvement of the International Monetary Fund in the bailout, Greece's third since 2010.

Dijsselbloem noted that the trust of the country's creditors hangs in the balance, while European Central Bank executive board member Benoit Coeure argued that the milestones' fulfillment is also "pivotal ... for a return of confidence in the Greek economy."

But the country has had a history of falling behind on bailout-dictated reforms. Austrian Finance Minister Hans Joerg Schelling said Friday's talks would serve to make clear to Athens that "agreements are there to be respected."

"It's not new that with Greece, we see the implementation of the agreed measures only in the final stage of the agreed-upon time period," German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble added.

Experts from the creditors will travel to Athens next week to prepare future steps under the bailout.

There have been calls in Greece for an end to austerity, but Dijsselbloem argued that the country has to continue making its public finances sustainable.

"The use of the word austerity has been politicized to a high level," he said. "Most of the countries have done the major part of the work on getting [their] budget back on track, and Greece still has to do work ... You cannot just say: 'We've come to the end of that now, we're done with that.'"

Last update: Fri, 09/09/2016 - 16:08
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