Arab Today, arab today eurozone set to fix new greek bailout
Last Updated : GMT 02:16:14
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Arab Today, arab today

Eurozone set to fix new Greek bailout

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today Eurozone set to fix new Greek bailout

Brussels - AFP

Greece said Monday it was confident a deal would be found to seal the country's eurozone future with a new bailout but key partners demanded strict surveillance of the Athens government. After months of acrimonious debate, eurozone ministers and the IMF began closed-door talks on conditions for greenlighting a 230-billion-euro ($300 billion) bailout -- the second for Athens in almost two years. Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said on arrival that he was "optimistic" of a deal, seeing "a long period of uncertainty coming to a close today, a period that benefited neither the Greek economy, nor the euro area overall." That position was backed by a "confident" Wolfgang Schaeuble of Germany while IMF chief Christine Lagarde praised Athens' "great efforts" to overhaul its economy. But hardline Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees De Jager demanded the European Union and the International Monetary Fund take "permanent" control of government decision-making over revenues and public expenditure in Greece. De Jager said partners committed to providing Greece money for years to come need "some kind of permanent presence" dictating policy on the ground, adding "it is very important when you loan money that you are the boss." At stake in the rescue of Greece is a writedown of privately-held government debt worth 100 billion euros as well as guarantees and loans eventually adding up to another 130 billion euros. If agreed, a bond swap with private investors would be launched on Wednesday, right on time for Athens as it faces debt repayments of about 14.5 billion euros on March 20. Indeed, full delivery of the rest of the package, as well as IMF assistance, will be contingent on Greece enacting deeply unpopular spending cuts and reforms demanded by its partners. On this point, lengthy discussions were anticipated with Belgian Finance Minister Steven Vanackere and others warning that Greece must deliver, "not only today, but in the weeks, months and years to come." Eurozone hardliners' patience with Greece almost snapped over recent weeks with growing suggestions Athens could be cut adrift and that the eurozone would suffer less damage from such an approach than 18 months ago. As Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos joined the talks, ministers were broadly agreed on the principles of the overall accord. But euro partners also see Greece as the victim of decades of chronic financial mismanagement by dynastic political forces -- what Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti last week called a "perfect catalogue" of errors. After weeks of what officials said was "deliberate pressure" to get the ruling class in Athens to stick to promises of change, the new bailout has been likened to the aid equivalent of a hospital drip. Germany and the Netherlands, among the most critical of Greece's partners, will need to get the package past their sceptical parliaments. Debt reduction targets have veered off course with Greece now in a fifth year of recession and a senior official told AFP there was still a 5.5-billion euro hole in the figures. Ahead of a general election in April, surveillance of Greece's day-to-day economic management is critical after the failure of an initial 110-billion-euro EU-IMF rescue approved nearly two years ago. So a small army of EU officials is building up in Athens to make sure Greece delivers on pledges including a 22 percent reduction in the country's minimum wage and a 12-percent cut to pensions of more than 1,300 euros a month. On top of 3.2 billion euros in the latest spending cuts, Greece agreed to open a blocked, or "escrow" account to ensure that aid for repayments to government creditors is set aside and not used for other purposes. But this was far from settled and Greece found support even among traditionally tougher members of the eurozone, Austria's Maria Fekter saying she was "sceptical" of demanding keeping back funds for this purpose. "It can't be that the administration of the programme itself devours money," she cautioned. Eurogroup chairman Jean-Claude Juncker said the euro nations would not go beyond a 130-billion-euros contribution and Fekter suggested that the private sector may be asked to "help a bit more." Negotiators for the banks were attending the talks. The Group of 20 major economies will also meet later this week in Mexico seeking to boost IMF lending resources. After repeated violent protests, finally resolving the Greek problem would allow eurozone leaders to focus on building a financial firewall for the currency bloc as a whole at a March 1 and 2 summit.

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