Greece agrees to talks with creditors after EU pushback

Technical negotiations on bailout set to begin later this week after Eurogroup chief accuses Athens of wasting time.

    Greece''s finance minister Varoufakis rejected criticism from eurozone partners, insisting the government had not wasted time in talks [Getty Images]
    Greece''s finance minister Varoufakis rejected criticism from eurozone partners, insisting the government had not wasted time in talks [Getty Images]

    Greece has agreed to start urgent technical talks on extending its crucial bailout after its eurozone partners accused the debt-stricken country of wasting time in previous negotiations.

    The announcement came after a meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Brussels on Monday at which the Greek government outlined the reforms demanded by lenders in exchange for further cash.

    The ministers agreed last month to extend Greece's current bailout until June as long as Athens comes up with suitable proposals, but Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem accused the Greeks of wasting time.

    "We have spent two weeks discussing who meets who where and in what format, and it's a complete waste of time," Dijsselbloem, who is also the Dutch finance minister, told a press conference after the meeting.

    Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis insisted that Athens had not wasted any time and was looking forward to the start of the technical talks on Wednesday.

    The final 7.5 billion euro ($6.9 billion) installment of Greece's 240 billion euro ($222 billion )international bailout is still pending, and without it, the country is quickly running out of funds and faces repayments of International Monetary Fund loan installments this month.

    Dijsselbloom said there could be "no talk of disbursement [of bailout funds] if there is no implementation." He said the eurozone would consider cutting the disbursement of the loans in parts, but that could happen only after Greece had begun implementing its reforms.

    Greece's left-wing government described Monday's meeting as successful, with an official in the Greek capital saying it was a step towards implementing the deal reached last month to extend Greece's bailout and provide it with more loans.

    The official spoke only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the record.

    Greece's government was voted into power in January on promises of abolishing the budget austerity that accompanied the country's bailout. But it has had to roll back on a series of pre-election promises, including seeking a write-off of most of the country's debt.

    Monday's meeting of the 19 finance ministers from countries that use the euro was held amid considerable scepticism over Greece's progress in detailing promised reforms.

    Over the weekend, Varoufakis said in an interview to Italy's Corriere de la Sera newspaper that if the creditors do not eventually approve the reforms, his government could call new elections or a referendum. The government later clarified any referendum would be on the content of reforms and fiscal policy.

    Among other reforms, Varoufakis' suggestions include using "non-professional inspectors" such as students, housewives and tourists, to crack down on tax evasion, according to a leaked copy of the letter.

    The inspectors would be hired on a short-term casual basis "to pose, after some basic training, as customers, on behalf of the tax authorities, while 'wired' for sound and video," the letter says.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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