Wed, Mar 11, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Tense Greek debt negotiations escalate

‘NO TIME TO LOSE’:Eurogroup President and Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said that direct talks with ‘troika’ representatives ‘must and will start’

NY Times News Service, BRUSSELS

Greece’s debt negotiations with its international creditors will proceed to the next, more technical level later this week, as a result of an agreement reached on Monday by eurozone finance ministers.

The left-led Athens government, which came to power in January on a pledge to stop Greece’s capitulation to inspectors from the so-called “troika” that represents the nation’s creditors, immediately began taking pains to say the new round of talks will be on its own terms.

However, after weeks of wrangling over how and whether to continue hewing to the dictates of its 240 billion euro bailout program, Greece has clearly tried the patience of the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers, who have been holding the discussions so far.

Today, Greece are due to begin talks in Brussels directly with representatives of the troika: the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF.

“There is no further time to lose,” Eurogroup President and Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said at a news conference on Monday.

The talks “must and will start” today, he said.

Though the government of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has been insisting that it will negotiate with the creditors only in Brussels, to avoid the continued stigma of inspectors periodically occupying Athens, Eurogroup members on Monday indicated that it was not feasible to get a clear picture of the Greek economy without emissaries visiting Greece’s capital.

“Some people will have to be on the ground in Athens,” Dijsselbloem said.

That visit would be in addition to the meeting with the Greek officials in Brussels today, although Dijsselbloem did not say when it would take place.

The visitors would be given “full access” to Greek officials, Greek Minister of Finance Yanis Varoufakis told a news conference after the meeting. However, those visitors should not “enter the ministries” displaying “a kind of power play that smacked of a colonial attitude,” Varoufakis said. “That practice is finished.”

Although European officials had agreed in principle late last month to disburse an additional 7 billion euros (US$7.6 billion) from Greece’s bailout program, they have indicated that no money will be released before a full assessment of the Greek economy is complete and overhauls are in place.

They said it would happen only if the new left-leaning Greek government could demonstrate it was serious about improving its tax-collecting efforts and making structural changes in the economy.

Greece could have access to bailout money as soon as it moves to pass laws and make those structural changes, Dijsselbloem said at the news conference. However, those payments would be made only once such steps are “well off the ground,” he said.

Payments to Greece could be “cut into parts, which we’ve done before,” he said, apparently offering Greece the incentive of financial rewards each time it made significant progress toward its creditors’ goals.

Late last week, Varoufakis submitted a set of proposed measures, including an unorthodox plan to enlist Greek citizens and tourists in an undercover program meant to identify tax evaders.

If that idea conveyed a sense of desperation, it might be for good reason. Greece runs the risk of running out of money before the end of this month, as tax receipts shrink and the economy shows signs of lapsing back into recession.

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