NEWS

ECB representative tells Athens to focus on reforms

Greece would benefit more from speeding up the process of structural reforms than spending its time right now on renegotiating its bailout deal with its lenders, European Central Bank executive board member Joerg Asmussen told The Economist conference in Athens on Monday.

"The first priority for the new Greek government has to be getting the program back on track,» Asmussen said, referring to the incoming three-party coalition government under New Democracy's Antonis Samaras, which has pledged to renegotiate certain terms of a 130-million-euro bailout deal with the ECB, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund -- collectively known as the troika.

"Delaying adjustment is risky... And it is also not free: it requires additional funding from the creditor countries, because the country still runs a primary deficit,» he added.

The government is bracing for a series of meetings starting on Tuesday with inspectors from the European Union and the IMF who will assess progress on agreed reforms, which have experienced significant delays as Greece held two general elections in as many months.

Samaras, who missed a crucial European Union summit last week while recovering from eye surgery, was locked in meetings with government officials over the weekend and after being given the green light by doctors on Monday is expected to meet later in the day with his coalition partners, Evangelos Venizelos of PASOK and Fotis Kouvelis of Democratic Left.

Speaking to Kathimerini in an interview on Sunday, Asmussen said that the troika was willing to discuss tweaking certain aspects of the bailout deal on the condition that these changes do not affect its targets.

"We were always open and we are open to discuss elements of the program as long as we keep the key goals of the program intact. So, let?s say, if he [Samaras] wants to change the mixture of the revenue and expenditure measures this can surely be discussed,» Asmussen said, adding: «But with respect to the key results and goals of the program to make Greece more competitive and to reach a debt sustainability situation, I do not see room for change."

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