Thursday 18 January 2018

Greece crisis: Eurozone finance ministers holding crunch talks on Greek crisis today

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis arrives for a meeting of the eurogroup finance ministers at the EU Council building in Brussels. (AP)
Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis arrives for a meeting of the eurogroup finance ministers at the EU Council building in Brussels. (AP)

Eurozone finance ministers are holding crunch talks today to thrash out the details of a Greek debt deal, with officials saying that the next 48 hours are "decisive" as the clock ticks on a deadline for Athens to avert default.

Hopes were high going in to the talks that Greece and its creditors can strike a deal with less than a week to go, but those could fade as the Greek premier must convince his anti-austerity party to approve concessions needed to unblock bailout funds.

"We are very near (an agreement), the next 48 hours will be decisive," said a spokesman for the Greek government spokesman ahead of the finance ministers' meeting and a full meeting of all 28 EU member states on Thursday.

Greek economy minister George Stathakis said earlier today that "two or three" items remained to settle with international lenders on a package of proposals put forward by Greece to break a deadlock in negotiations a cash-for-reforms deal.

"There are two or three very specific issues, and as you appreciate it's the last part, three out of the fifty measures that have been agreed," he told Greece's Mega TV.

He said those issues included long term debt relief and VAT exemptions in the Greek islands, a very sensitive issue for the right-wing Independent Greeks party that supports Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' coalition government.

However he said he was confident a deal would be reached at a European Union summit on Thursday and that it would be supported by Tsipras' leftist Syriza party, despite objections expressed by some in the party.

Concessions offered in recent days by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, including hikes to tax and pension contributions, have garnered a cautious welcome from euro zone leaders but triggered a furious reaction from some leftists in the ruling Syriza party.

One lawmaker said the deal was tantamount to a "tombstone" for Greece, after repeated rounds of austerity during five years of crisis.

Deputy parliament speaker and Syriza lawmaker Alexis Mitropoulos said the concessions were "not in line with the principles of the left" and would cause "social carnage".

However State Minister Nikos Pappas, one of Tsipras' closest aides, said he was confident that the deal would get through.

"I assure you that the deal will be such that it will win the backing of the government majority and of the Greek people," Pappas told Mega TV."

Euro zone leaders said the new budget proposals from Athens on Monday were a basis for further negotiations to unlock billions of euros in frozen aid and avert a default next week that could lead to a Greek exit from the single currency area.

Talks between Greece and its euro zone partners over an aid-for-reforms deal could continue after a European Summit this week and Athens has until the end of the month to stave off possible default, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said today.

Addressing the Italian parliament, Renzi said negotiations "may not be completed at the summit, because the deadline is the end of the month."

Greece risks defaulting on a €1.6bn debt repayment to the International Monetary Fund due by June 30 unless it agrees a deal to release fresh cash from its lenders.

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