Sunday 4 December 2016

EU crisis talks narrow towards potential Sunday deal on Greece

Karl Stagno Navarra, Eleni Chrepa and Nikos Chrysoloras

Published 01/05/2015 | 02:30

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis arrives at his ministry in Athens yesterday, while tax officers demonstrate over pay issues in their sector
Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis arrives at his ministry in Athens yesterday, while tax officers demonstrate over pay issues in their sector

Greece and its euro-area partners are stepping up talks in a bid to break an impasse over bailout aid amid conflicting signals from the country's government over its willingness to agree on long-stalled reforms.

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With Greece facing a cash crunch this month, both sides in a meeting of euro-area officials agreed to pursue intensive negotiations beginning yesterday with the target of a preliminary deal by May 3, according to three people with knowledge of the talks.

The aim would be for finance ministers to sign off on the accord by their next scheduled meeting on May 11, the officials said, asking not to be named because the talks are private.

"I'm confident that there's a common will and that in particular the will of the Greek government is indeed to find a solution," French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron told reporters in Rome.

A key factor in a potential breakthrough may be the decision by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to intervene and play a major role in the negotiations.

That gave the signal that his government may at last be willing to do what's needed to unlock the stalled bailout.

"There seems to be movement in translating the bullet points into action," Austrian Finance Minister Hans Joerg Schelling said on Wednesday ahead of the euro-area talks. "There is a clear recognition that we have to have enough on the 11th to be able to keep talking."

Hopes for a deal propelled Greek government bonds higher yesterday with the yield on the 10-year government bond falling to 11.16pc in Athens.

One EU official cautioned that at the moment getting a technical deal by Sunday looked optimistic.

Hard and long negotiations will take place over the coming days, with more talks planned for next week. Even so, reaching a comprehensive agreement by May 11 remains unlikely, the official said.

An agreement could still stumble at opposition within Tsipras's government as his cabinet took stock of the bailout talks at a meeting last night.

In a sign of the obstacles yet to overcome for a deal, Greece's finance ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that the government "retains red lines" in the negotiations, which include a sales tax on islands, pension and labour market reforms and asset sales.

Irish Independent

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