Athens.- Reaching agreement with Greece’s European partners may be difficult, but “a significant step forward was taken,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told “Real News” daily, published Saturday. He added that “negotiations at Monday’s Eurogroup will be difficult.”His full statement is as follows: “In Brussels, our partners met another Greece, one that knows what it wants to ask for. A significant step forward was taken, it is however early to speak of an agreement. Monday’s negotiations at the Eurogroup will be difficult. The support of the Greek people will once again be our strength.”
A cabinet meeting was held late Friday, ending after midnight, to update ministers on developments in the Eurogroup and the EU Summit held this past week.
According to government sources, the briefings were carried out by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Government Vice President Yiannis Dragasakis and Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias (who spoke on bilateral contacts in Russia and Germany). Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis joined the meeting a little after midnight.
The government will intensify its efforts to set the Greek stance before Monday’s Eurogroup and “to improve further our stance in terms of correlations,” sources said, referring to other parties that could agree.
The consultations began Friday after the Greek Premier laid out his plans to his peers, including Europe’s skeptical German Chancellor Angela Merkel, at his first European Union summit.
Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said on Saturday he believed Athens would reach an agreement with its EU lenders about the way out of its international bailout, “even at the last minute”.
Asked in an interview with the Greek daily Kathimerini what would happen if no agreement was reached at Monday’s Eurogroup meeting, and whether euro zone finance ministers would meet again in the coming days, Varoufakis said: “Our strong stance, based on logic, will lead to an agreement, even at the 11th hour.”
Varoufakis said the two sides had agreed on many issues but privatizations and labor issues remained sticking points.
Chancellor Merkel recognized the need for compromise on all sides, but also called for Greece to respect the conditions of the bailout — a position that neatly encapsulated both sides in the stand-off.
“It is not a negotiation but an exchange of views to better understand each other’s position,” an EU official said of the final huddle Saturday before next week’s meeting of Eurozone finance ministers in Brussels.
“The talks are ongoing and the institutions are expected to report at the Eurogroup on Monday,” the official said, without giving further details.
No discussions are scheduled for Sunday, with the parties reporting back to their governments to complete preparations for Monday’s meeting of the 19 Eurozone finance ministers at 1400 GMT.
Dutch Finance Minister and Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem said Friday he was «pessimistic» of any quick deal.
“The Greeks have sky-high ambitions. The possibilities, given the state of the Greek economy, are limited», Dijsselbloem said in describing the difficulties in finding common ground.
“I don’t know if we will get there by Monday,» he added.
The Greek government “must agree to an extension of the current fiscal adjustment programme” if an interim solution to its debt issue is to be found, Michael Fuchs, a deputy and close associate of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, told Saturday newspaper “Agora” in an interview.
Fuchs, vice president of Merkel’s Christian Democratic party, said, “the new Greek government must accept it has to observe the agreed reforms; adjustments may only be discussed after such a commitment.”
The leading German politician also rejected Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis’ proposal for a bond swap. “The European Central Bank (ECB) cannot participate in a bond swap for legal reasons; the International Monetary Fund (IMF) cannot in any case agree to a bond swap, nor will European governments agree to that,” he said, referring to the troika of Greece’s lenders.
He explained, “We have given Greece all options for reducing the debt, such as a postponement of the repayment of the debt and nearly-zero interest rates. Further lightening of the already extremely reduced servicing of the debt does not constitute a solution. Greece needs structural reforms, private investments, strengthening of employment opportunities and growth.”
Asked to comment on the Greek government’s request for an end to the role of the troika, he said “the problem is not the term ‘troika’ itself… Greece’s creditors include the European Commission, the IMF and the ECB. All three are not the problem, but the necessary solution for Greece… All three institutional agencies wish to continue to help Greece and the Greek people.”
European Union member-states will take part in the Greek government’s efforts to recover its fiscal assets that have been taken out of the country, European Parliament President Martin Schulz said in an interview to “Parapolitika” newspaper published Saturday.
“Greece will have both the EU and governments by its side if it gets to work and fights tax evasion and tax fraud as its absolute priority,” Schulz was quoted as saying. He added, “Rich Greeks must assume a greater burden not just for ethical reasons, but also because this will contribute to the increase of tax revenues. This would be an excellent way to put money in the economy and social services without putting an end to efforts for fiscal health.”
The EU and the International Monetary Fund bailed Greece out in 2010, and then again in 2012 to the tune of some 240 billion euros, plus a debt write-down worth more than 100 billion euros ($113 billion).
The rescue may have kept Greece in the eurozone, but it also left Athens with a mountain of debt worth about 315 billion euros that most analysts do not believe will ever be fully repaid.
In return for the bailouts, the then centre-right Greek government agreed to a series of stinging austerity measures, and the much-resented oversight by the EU, IMF and European Central Bank ‘troika to make sure Greece stuck to the terms.
Tsipras campaigned and won elections last month on promises to ditch the programme, which he said had wrecked the economy, not helped it, and sent the jobless rate soaring.
In a more conciliatory move, however, Athens also said it could live with 70 percent of the current programme, but that Greece must be allowed leeway on the rest so it can do more to boost the economy, including through additional spending.
Time is pressing to resolve the impasse amid fears that failure could force Greece out of the eurozone, with potentially disastrous consequences for all concerned.
The country’s current debt rescue expires at the end of this month, and the ECB has signalled it is unwilling to offer Greece the cheap funding to keep its banking system afloat if there is no new arrangement between Athens and its creditors.