Brussels.- ANA/REUTERS/Greek News
Eurozone Finance Ministers failed to agree after 6 hours of talks to a joint statement that would have express the political will for an agreement on the Greek bailout program. Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem said at a press conference early on Thursday morning, that talks between Greece and its EU partners on the country’s fiscal programs will continue at the Eurogroup meeting of Monday, February 16, adding that there would be no joint statement.
“We didn’t enter into negotiations on content of the programme or a programme, we simply tried to work next steps over the next couple days,” he said. “We were unable to do that.”
“We had an intense discussion, constructive, covering a lot of ground, also making progress, but not enough progress yet to come to joint conclusions,” he said.
Greece’s finance minister Yanis Varoufakis said that hours of emergency talks in Brussels had produced “very good discussions”.
In a statement after the conclusion of the meeting, Luxembourg Finance Minister Pierre Gramegna said that the eurozone finance ministers had agreed to “the road forward,” adding that there were no clashes during talks but that the issue of Greece’s funding would continue the next few days, leading to Monday’s Eurogroup meeting.
Greek government sources said that Greece “established with facts the failure of (loan) memorandums” and raised the issue of a humanitarian crisis and the public debt.
According to the sources, the Greek government “rejects an extension of the memorandum” past its end-February date; the sources added that the negotiations will continue until a mutually beneficial agreement is reached between Greece and its creditors, which include the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
A CLOSE CALL?
According to the Financial Times, a draft statement was almost agreed at the Eurogroup, but it was rejected by Athens. Initially, according to the FT, Yianis Varoufakis had nodded to the wording and asked to make a phone call with his government to get the Green Light. The answer was negative.
According to Reuters, efforts to clinch a joint statement, as it went through drafts in which language can be as important as substance, were aborted after Varoufakis consulted government colleagues.
The text of the draft is as follows:
“Today the Eurogroup took stock of the current situation in Greece and the state of the current adjustment programme. In this context, the Eurogroup has engaged in an intensive dialogue with the new Greek authorities.
The Greek authorities have expressed their commitment to a broader and stronger reform process aimed at durably improving growth prospects. At the same time, the Greek authorities reiterated their unequivocal commitment to the financial obligations to all their creditors.
On this basis, we will now start technical work on the further assessment of Greece’s reform plans. The Greek authorities have agreed to work closely and constructively with the institutions to explore the possibilities for extending and successfully concluding the present programme taking into account the new government’s plans.
If this is successful this will bridge the time for the Greek authorities and the Eurogroup to work on possible new contractual arrangements. We will continue our discussions at our next meeting on Monday 16 February.”
The new Greek government, elected on a mandate to end deeply unpopular international bailout terms, has insisted there can be no “extension” once that deal expires at the end of the month. But EU partners fear financial chaos without such an accord.
A well informed source in Brussels revealed that Athens insisted the word “amending” to be included in the statement, but the Germans refused.
Varoufakis and his delegation had a prior meeting with International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde, who flew to Brussels to join the talks in a sign of the IMF’s concern about the Greek crisis, which is weighing on global financial markets.
“They are competent, intelligent, they’ve thought about their issues. We have to listen to them, we are starting to work together and it is a process that is starting and is going to last a certain time,” Lagarde told reporters.
In Athens, a Greek official said Varoufakis had discussed with Lagarde and Dijsselbloem some form of “bridge agreement” for funding the state once the current bailout deal expires.
Meeting his counterparts collectively for the first time, Varoufakis worked the room before talks started, shaking hands first with Schaeuble, then others. He looked relaxed in a designer checked scarf and his trademark open-neck shirt.
EU sources said some ministers were surprised that the informal tone extended to not bringing a written document outlining proposals. Varoufakis simply made oral statements.
Accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Yannis Dragasakis, the minister set out the new government’s thinking on interim steps towards a negotiated debt restructuring but presented no formal document, participants said.
“Positions are now a bit clearer, but there is a very long way to go in the coming days,” an EU source who participated in the meeting said.
Varoufakis has proposed a six-month transition in which Greece would be allowed to issue more short-term debt, receive the proceeds of ECB holdings of Greek bonds and tap unused bank rescue funds while renegotiating its debt. Athens would swap its euro zone loans for GDP-linked bonds and its ECB-held debt for interest-bearing perpetual bonds with no reimbursement date.
Keeping a close eye on a problem that could reprise some of the banking and financial market turmoil of three years ago, ECB chief Mario Draghi was present.
Athens’s partners have warned that time is short since any changes to the current bailout may require ratification by several national parliaments in creditor countries.
European Union leaders will take up the issue at their first summit with Tsipras on Thursday. EU officials said they would be briefed on the ministerial talks but there would be no room for debt negotiation at a summit mostly devoted to the Ukraine-Russia conflict, fighting terrorism and longer-term reform of the euro zone’s governance.
“BANKRUPT BUT FREE”
At least 10,000 Greeks took to the streets of Athens and other cities on Wednesday to demonstrate support for Tsipras’s government in the Brussels negotiations. Smaller leftist satellite rallies were planned in Brussels, outside the European Central Bank in Frankfurt and in London.
Protesters outside parliament in central Athens unfurled banners proclaiming “Bankrupt but Free” and “Stop Austerity”.
Tsipras tweeted a picture of the rally, with the message: “In the cities of Greece and Europe the people are fighting the negotiation battle. They are our strength.”