Greece ‘wasting time’ in EU bailout talks

Greece ‘wasting time’ in EU bailout talks

BRUSSELS - Agence France-Presse
Greece ‘wasting time’ in EU bailout talks

Eurogroup Chairman and Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem. REUTERS Photo

European finance ministers urged Greece on March 9 to stop wasting time in talks on its crucial bailout as debt-stricken Athens warned of a possible referendum if its reform plans are rejected.

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, head of the Eurogroup of ministers from the 19 countries that use the single currency, said Greece had to make concrete progress if it wants financial aid to be further extended through the summer.

Greek Finance Minister Yaris Varoufakis was presenting Athens’s latest plans for reforms at the meeting with its eurozone partners in Brussels. Among other steps the plans include using tourists as amateur sleuths to crack down on tax dodgers.

The euro dived to a new 11.5-year low against the dollar and Europe’s main stock markets slumped as concerns about Greece outweighed the impact of the European Central Bank’s launching on Monday its 1.1-trillion-euro ($1.2-trillion) bond-buying program aimed at boosting the eurozone economy.

“We have lost over two weeks in which very little progress has been made, we have to stop wasting time and start talks seriously,” Dijsselbloem, who is also the Dutch finance minister, told reporters.

“The extension (of the Greek bailout) is only for four months and the clock is ticking.”         
Greece’s new hard-left government led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras got a lifeline last month when eurozone ministers agreed a four-month extension to the current EU-IMF bailout, in exchange for reforms.

But the payout of the next tranche of some seven billion euros at the end of April is dependent on a review of the reform plans that month, meaning that Athens is rapidly running out of time.

Tsipras vowed on his election in January to renegotiate Greece’s debts and end austerity measures imposed under two bailouts worth 240 billion euros ($270 billion) since 2010, although Athens has since backed down on several points.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Athens, which has long been at odds with Europe’s most powerful economy over the austerity measures included in the bailout conditions, should avoid “unilateral” changes.

“I do not think that there is much new concerning Greece. We decided a declaration at our last meeting, since then things did not move very much,” he told reporters.

The new Greek measures, in an 11-page letter that Varoufakis sent to Dijsselbloem on March 6, also include plans to streamline bureaucracy and raise revenue from online gambling.

Dijsselbloem said on March 8 the reforms were “far from complete”.

With speculation mounting about a chaotic Greek exit from the euro, Yaroufakis fuelled the uncertainty at the weekend when he said “there could be problems” if his European colleagues fail to accept Greece’s reform proposals.

“We can go back to elections. Call a referendum,” Varoufakis warned in an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Sunday.        

Varoufakis later said his comments had been taken out of context but they risk causing further irritation at home and abroad at the hard-charging style of the “rock star” former economics professor with his shaven head and trademark  Burberry scarf.

The last time Greece threatened a referendum on its bailout in November 2011, it sent global markets into panic, infuriated its European partners and led to the fall of then prime minister George Papandreou.