Saturday 16 February 2019

Greeks 'won't get new deal on bailout without troika approval'

Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras (L) welcomes Luxembourg's Prime Minister and Eurogroup chairman Jean-Claude Juncker during their meeting in Athens
Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras (L) welcomes Luxembourg's Prime Minister and Eurogroup chairman Jean-Claude Juncker during their meeting in Athens

Tony Czuczka

Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker said yesterday that a potential extension to Greece's bailout programme will depend on a report into the country's finances by international debt inspectors.

The inspectors from the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary fund, known as the troika, are due to return to Athens next month to review Athens's progress on implementing reforms.

Mr Juncker made his comments after meeting with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras during a visit to Athens.

Mr Samaras started a European charm offensive yesterday with an appeal to Germans for more time to meet targets for deficit cuts, but may struggle to make his case in meetings this week with EU leaders.

"All we want is a bit of 'air to breathe' to get the economy running and to increase state income. More time does not automatically mean more money," Mr Samaras told Germany's mass-market 'Bild' newspaper, which often mocks Greece's dire finances.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel signaled that she was willing to discuss a Greek request for more time to meet the terms of its rescue, leaving the door open to potential concessions. Ms Merkel, responding to a reporter's question in the Moldovan capital Chisinau yesterday, said she wouldn't discuss the request publicly before meeting with Mr Samaras in Berlin tomorrow, saying she'd "have the opportunity to communicate directly" with him on the matter then.

"We won't find solutions on Friday," Ms Merkel said, reiterating that leaders must await a report being drawn up by the troika. "We will wait for the troika's report and then we'll take decisions," she said.

Courage

With cash coffers running empty and renewed talk of a Greek eurozone exit without more aid, Mr Samaras is under pressure to convince European leaders that Greece has finally mustered the political courage to make good on commitments in a bailout.

Mr Juncker, the most influential European policymaker to visit Athens since the conservative-led government took power on June 20, is expected to tell Mr Samaras bluntly that Greece must carry out promised cuts and that little room for leeway exists.

In response to Mr Samaras's comments to 'Bild', the Dutch finance minister gave a taste of the scepticism among the eurozone's less-indebted northern states towards Greece: "If it concerns delaying reforms and budget cuts, then it is not a good idea," Jan Kees de Jager said.

Such messages are likely to be hammered home again to the Greek leader when he travels to Berlin tomorrow to meet Ms Merkel and to Paris a day later for talks with French President Francois Hollande.

Ms Merkel has already said she and Mr Samaras will not make any decisions during their talks, adding she would wait for a report from lenders on Greece's progress in meeting targets. That report is not expected until late September.

Shortly after being elected, Mr Samaras's government promised he would tour Europe to seek two more years to hit targets under Greece's €130bn bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

But faced with a lack of European appetite for cutting Greece more slack, the government has since toned down its rhetoric on the issue and now expects merely to broach the idea during talks this week rather than formally requesting it.

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