Eurozone ministers welcome Greek reforms, but bailout hurdles remain

Eurozone finance ministers welcomed Monday a new set of controversial reforms approved in Greece, but they were set for further complicated discussions on contingency cuts and debt relief as the cash-strapped country waits for fresh bailout money.

"We shouldn't be expecting miracles today," Finnish Finance Minister Alexander Stubb said as he arrived for a special meeting with his 18 eurozone counterparts in Brussels. "Having said that, I think Greece has advanced. ... At the end of the day, we will find a solution."

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said he was confident that "we will reach a solution in May," while Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan expressed hope that a breakthrough agreement can be reached when the eurozone ministers meet again on May 24.

Athens and its creditors have struggled for months to agree on a new package of reforms and cost-cutting measures that will allow Greece to receive the next tranche of its third, 86-billion-euro (98-billion-dollar) bailout. There are concerns that the country is once again nearing the brink of bankruptcy.

The Greek parliament late Sunday voted through a new bailout-dictated reform package, including pension cuts and income tax hikes, amid clashes on nearby streets between police and rioters opposed to the austerity measures.

Italian Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan described the measures as "significant," while Austrian Finance Minister Hans Joerg Schelling praised Greece for making "much more progress" than during its first two international bailouts.

"On reforms, a lot has been done," EU Economy Commissioner Pierre Moscovici added. "What has been voted yesterday ... are very important steps."

"We'll hear from the [creditor] institutions whether that's all compliant," said Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who chairs the eurozone ministers' Eurogroup panel. "That could be the basis for a next disbursement."

Bailout negotiations have been complicated by creditors demanding another set of cost-cutting measures that would be implemented if Greece's finances go awry, to reassure those who doubt that Athens will be able to stick by its financial targets.

Moscovici said that "we're almost there" on the contingency measures, even though both Greek authorities and the International Monetary Fund have expressed concerns about the approach.

The finance ministers will also need to kick off a sensitive discussion about further debt relief for Greece, with longer maturities and lower interest rates expected to be on the table.

"I hope really today that we will set the framework for a global deal," Moscovici said. "Everybody needs to make [their] best efforts to reach a compromise."

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

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