Eurozone ministers to decide on Greek bail-out
Eurozone finance ministers on Monday (20 February) are expected to decide on a second bail-out package for Greece, after weeks of delays and external pressure on local politicians to stick to the highly contested austerity programme after elections are held.
Highlighting the importance of the occasion, Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos is also in Brussels with his office saying that today's meeting could "take very important decisions for the country and require immediate and thorough consultation between the Prime Minister and minister of finance."
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Apart from seeking approval from eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund on the €130bn bail-out, Papademos is also expected to hold talks with private creditors on a €100-billion debt relief deal.
Greece is struggling to secure the rescue deal before a 20 March deadline when it has to repay €14.5bn worth of bonds.
The parliament has already agreed on a €3.2bn package of highly unpopular spending cuts. The preceding parliamentary debate was accompanied by violent street protests and saw one far-right party leave the ruling coalition in the hope of boosting its popularity ahead of general elections due in April.
Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Finland have in past weeks increased the pressure on political leaders to commit to the austerity measures no matter who wins the elections.
Berlin has meanwhile indicated it expects the deal to go through on Monday, after it made sure that several of its conditions are met: written pledges from coalition leaders and a special escrow account where bail-out money and Greek taxes will be earmarked for paying back the country's debtors.
"There is agreement within the Eurogroup that there will be such a special account, or 'escrow account' in jargon, for the disbursement of the second aid package," German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble told German daily Tagesspiegel on Sunday. "The account ensures a priority for debt reduction," he added.
Two more pieces of legislation, including wage and pension cuts, are due to be passed on Monday through parliament, with some 3,000 people protesting the cuts on Sunday. Some protesters were injured in clashes with police and some 60 people were detained.
Draghi to attend meeting
The main outstanding issue for ministers to resolve on Monday is the bridging of a €6 billion gap in order to meet the target of reducing Greece's debt from 160 to 120 percent of gross domestic product by 2020. The current debt analysis suggests that a €130bn bail-out plus the envisaged €100bn debt reduction on the bond swap with private investors will bring the debt down to only 129 percent of GDP.
One option would be for the European Central Bank and national central banks to step in by giving up their profits on the Greek bonds they hold. ECB chief Mario Draghi has already indicated he is open to this solution. He is expected to join the finance ministers on Monday.
Another solution would be for the temporary eurozone bail-out fund (EFSF), which will lend most of the money, to ask for a lower interest rate on the bail-out.
The more unlikely options are for the private investors to take a higher 'haircut' or for governments to top up the €130 sum.
"The good news is that the gap is not so huge - a difference in 9 percent of GDP is close to the original figures," one EU diplomat told this website, adding he was "cautiously optimistic" about the deal being sealed tonight.