Thursday

17th Oct 2019

Greece digs in heels ahead of eurozone talks

  • Thousands protested again in support of the Greek government (Photo: Odysseas Gp)

The new Greek government is maintaining its stance on privatisations and the need for extra time to negotiate a 'bridge programme', ahead of crunch talks with eurozone finance ministers on Monday (16 February).

The Eurogroup of finance ministers will gather at 15.00 Brussels time and the meeting is expected to last long into the night, as views differ on how to keep Greece in the eurozone and maintain the reforms pressure.

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Germany, Finland, the Netherlands and Slovakia, say Athens needs to stick to the current programme which runs out on 28 February and get an extension, but only in return for delivering on the reforms that were promised by the previous Greek government.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, however, wants a new programme altogether. This would take months to negotiate and be subject to parliamentary approval in Germany and several other countries.

"It is not crucial to extend the current programme, you can also agree to start discussions on a new programme. This is a distinct possibility I would not exclude," a senior eurozone official said Friday in Brussels.

But the question remains of how to keep Greece afloat in the transition from the old to a new bailout programme.

The source added that the International Monetary Fund's part of the bailout continues until 2016 and downplayed expectations for a final deal on Monday.

Tsipras, for his part, told German magazine Stern that he expects "difficult negotiations", but that he remains "full of confidence".

"I promise you: Greece will then, in six months` time, be a completely different country," he added.

Tsipras had a phone conversation with EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker on Sunday, a few days after an EU summit where Juncker - a former Eurogroup chair who negotiated Greece's two successive bailouts in 2010 and 2012 - was the only leader in the room keen on starting a discussion about Greece.

EU council chief Donald Tusk, however, blocked the debate, arguing it was up to euro finance ministers to try to reach a solution on the Greek bailout and only if they failed, would leaders come back to it.

'Institutions' instead of troika

What Tsipras and his team have so far managed to obtain from their EU partners is a ban on the word "troika" - in reference to the inspectors of the three international creditors - the EU commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF.

Instead, EU leaders and the Eurogroup now refer to "institutions" and "technical talks" between the representatives of these institutions and the Greek government.

The Troika has become synonymous with austerity in Greece, with over 10,000 people on Sunday taking to the streets to support the government in its upcoming negotiations with the Eurogroup.

Solidarity protests were also held in Paris, Lisbon and Madrid over the weekend.

"The Greek government is determined to stick to its commitment towards the public ... and not continue a programme that has the characteristics of the previous bailout agreement," Greek government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis told Greek Skai television.

He added: "The Greek people have made it clear that their dignity is non-negotiable. We are continuing the negotiations with the popular mandate in our hearts and in our minds."

Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who will represent Greece at the Eurogroup on Monday, has promised to keep "around 70 percent" of the reforms pledged by the previous government.

But privatisations and labour laws remain the two main sticking points where the left-wing government in Athens disagrees with international creditors.

On Saturday, the government said it will review a €1.2 billion deal allowing Germany's Fraport to acquire 14 regional airports in Greece. Athens has also halted the privatisation of two harbours.

As for liberalising labour markets, government spokesman Sakellaridis said:

"We will discuss it with workers and with pensioners. Whatever we do, we will do through dialogue. We will not legislate at the sole behest of outside factors."

For his part, German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble on Monday told Deutschlandfunk he is "very sceptical" there will be a deal later that day. He accused the new Greek government of "acting quite irresponsibly", but ruled out a Greek exit from the eurozone.

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