Eurozone ministers mull 2.8-billion-euro aid payout for Greece

Eurozone finance ministers were discussing Monday whether Greece has made enough reform progress to receive its next bailout payment of 2.8 billion euros (3.1 billion dollars), with several eager to give the go-ahead.

Athens is on an 86-billion-euro financial lifeline from the European Union, under its third international rescue package negotiated in the space of five years.

Earlier this year, Greece's creditors paved the way for a 10.3-billion-euro aid tranche but split that up into smaller parcels, coupled to reform milestones that Athens must meet. With most of that already paid out, the country now hopes for the final payment.

"I expect to have a positive signal today and a decision that could lead to the disbursement of the remaining 2.8 billion euros," said EU Economy Commissioner Pierre Moscovici, ahead of the Eurogroup meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Luxembourg.

"We are going to give - as the commission - an assessment today saying that the 15 milestones, all of them, are now completed," he added, praising Athens' "tremendous" work in implementing "strong, difficult reforms."

"Greece is making great efforts," said French Finance Minister Michel Sapin. "I think you have to recognize those efforts, and I think that this will be done today," he added.

"I am sure there will be progress in one area, lack of progress in others," noted Maltese Finance Minister Edward Scicluna, adding that the ministers would consider the "full picture."

But as the meeting got under way, it was far from certain that the ministers would give the go-ahead for the next disbursement. Earlier Monday, finance ministry experts from the 19 eurozone states assessed Greece's reforms.

The experts failed to agree on whether Greece had done its homework, raising the possibility that ministers delay the decision, sources close to the negotiations said on condition of anonymity.

Measures that have not yet been fully implemented include the privatization of the Greek national telephone company OTE, as well as steps to reduce bureaucracy, liberalize the labour market and reform party financing.

The 2.8-billion-euro payout is not urgently required, as Greece's next debt repayment is not until December, when a 300-million-euro payment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is due.

But Athens is eager to receive the funding, in part to settle debts with domestic suppliers, a move that would effectively amount to a 1.7-billion-euro boost to the country's embattled economy.

Looming over the discussions is a debate over the long-term sustainability of Greece's debt, a condition for the IMF to participate in the country's third bailout.

Officials hope that a completion of the latest milestones and the release of the funds would help secure the IMF's involvement by the end of the year.

Last update: Mon, 10/10/2016 - 17:41

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