17th Apr 2024

Stop 'wasting time', Dijsselbloem tells Greece

  • Jeroen Dijsselbloem: "We've talked about this long enough" (Photo: Council of European Union)

Officials representing Greece’s creditors will return to Athens this week as Alexis Tsipras’ left-wing government is told to stop wasting time in talks over implementing the country’s controversial bailout programme.

"We have spent two weeks discussing who meets who where and in what format, and it's a complete waste of time," Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem told reporters following a meeting of the Eurogroup of finance ministers on Monday (9 March)

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Ministers agreed that “there is no further time to lose,” said Dijsselbloem, who chairs the 19 member group, adding that officials representing the European Commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank would seek a “speedy conclusion”.

“We’ve talked about this long enough,” he noted.

Syriza was swept to power in Greece in January and still enjoys strong approval ratings of over 70 percent among voters.

However, it was elected on a platform on renegotiating Greece’s €240 billion bailout programme and abolishing the austerity policies which most Greeks blame for the six consecutive years of recession that have wiped out more than a quarter of economic output, caused a precipitous drop in living standards, and increased the debt burden to 175 percent of GDP.

The return of Greece’s creditors marks a symbolic defeat for Tsipras, who had vowed that officials from the so-called Troika - now referred to as "the institutions" - would not return to Greece.

In an interview at the weekend with Italian daily Corriere della Sera, Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis raised the prospect of fresh elections and a referendum if softer terms could not be agreed.

"We can go back to elections. Call a referendum," he warned.

But other eurozone ministers have so far refused to entertain a write-down of Greece’s existing debts or softer terms to the bailout.

Dijsselbloem confirmed that he had received a letter from Varoufakis last week, outlining a handful of new measures in detail, but the Dutchman insisted that an agreement had to be reached on the overall programme.

Syriza’s initial proposals have involved savings from streamlining bureaucracy and a crackdown on tax evasion and avoidance.

He added that none of the remaining €7.2 billion in Greece’s bailout pot would be paid out until the programme was being implemented, insisting that “there can be no early disbursement … without implementation”.

Under the agreement reached in February, Tsipras’ government can only stick to its pledges to increase the minimum wage or pensions if it finds new savings to finance them.

Ministers did not discuss whether Greece would need a third bailout when its current rescue programme ends in June.

“We didn’t get involved in a detailed discussion on Greece,” said EU economics commissioner Pierre Moscovici.

“Commitments have to be respected and put in place by political and administrative decisions".

Elsewhere, France and Austria will be required to propose new budgetary measures in the coming months, while ministers confirmed that France will be given an extra two years to reduce its budget deficit.

Widely considered to be the worst offender in not sticking to the revised Stability and Growth Pact, the French government must present plans to create an extra €4 billion of new savings by April and to fully respect the new 2017 deadline by which time it must reduce its budget deficit to the 3 percent limit.

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