Business Irish

Friday 19 January 2018

Noonan: Irish Government won't piggy-back on new Greek debt deal until full proposals are on the table

Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan (L) talks with his Greek counterpart Yanis Varoufakis during an extraordinary Euro zone Finance Ministers meeting to discuss Athens' plans to reverse austerity measures agreed as part of its bailout, in Brussels
Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan (L) talks with his Greek counterpart Yanis Varoufakis during an extraordinary Euro zone Finance Ministers meeting to discuss Athens' plans to reverse austerity measures agreed as part of its bailout, in Brussels

Gavin McLoughlin in Brussels

The Irish Government won’t decide whether to try to piggy-back on any new Greek debt deal by seeking better terms for this country from European lenders until a full set of proposals is on the table, Finance Minister Michael Noonan said yesterday.

Mr Noonan said it was still not clear what exactly Greece wants following the election of the anti-austerity, anti-bailout Syriza-led government there.

“I think we’re jumping too far ahead, we really don’t know what the Greek position is yet. They have said different things in different European capitals,” Mr Noonan told reporters ahead of yesterday’s meeting of Eurozone finance ministers (the Eurogroup).

Concessions are usually made to countries – like Greece – that are in bailout programmes – something Ireland has no intention of going back into, Mr Noonan said.

Yesterday the new Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis did not seek a debt write-down for his country, or present a concrete set of proposals to meeting in Brussels, according to sources.

Indications last night were that Mr Varoufakis had committed to honouring all of Greece’s debts, and that a deal on what effectively will be an extension of the current bailout programme is close to being sealed, the sources said.

“We discussed the possibility of an extension, for some it was clear that that is the preferred option, but we haven’t quite come to that conclusion as yet,” Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem told a press conference late last night.

However, the finance ministers were unable to agree on a final statement at the conclusion of the meeting, or a way to continue talks until their next meeting on Monday.

It’s understood that Mr Varoufakis hardened his position after conferring with officials and phone calls from Athens.

Ministers from a number of countries who spoke at the behind-closed–doors meeting are understood to have taken a hard-line approach and said any compromises would have to come within the scope of an official bailout programme.

Mr Varoufakis told reporters that the meeting was “very constructive and extensive”.

“We heard many different, interesting opinions…now we are proceeding to the next meeting which is in a very few days…hoping by the end of that one there’s going to be a conclusion to the deliberations in a manner that is optimal from both the perspective of Greece and our European partners.”

The current Greek bailout deal is due to expire at the end of the month, and Greece had indicated it was seeking a six-month transition period in which it would receive bridging loans while looking to reschedule official debt.

Mr Noonan said such a bridging programme wouldn't work, based on the briefings he has received.

"I'm still of the view that the only space in which Greece can negotiate is with an extension of their existing programme or with a new programme,” he told reporters ahead of the meeting.

"I think a programme is always the opening position and then the elements of the programme can be spoken about."

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