New delay in troika return not a concern, Stournaras says

Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras told reporters on Friday that he was not concerned about a new delay in the anticipated return to Athens of troika envoys, noting that the additional time will allow government officials to present the foreign auditors with fiscal data from December which is better than expected.

"I am not concerned at all, in fact we ourselves were seeking a slight delay, as we want the final data from December, which appears to be better than what we and the troika expected,» Stournaras told journalists outside the Maximos Mansion after talks with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

The minister said he and the premier discussed economic developments in general, the execution of the budget and plans for the implementation of reforms over the coming weeks.

Troika envoys are not expected back in Athens until after a Eurogroup summit scheduled for January 27 so the government is aiming to clinch an agreement with envoys in time for the next summit on February 17.

The main issues on the agenda of talks are the funding gap for 2014 and 2015; the government's counter-proposals for revenue in view of the fact that it has refused to extend a higher value added tax rate on food service outlets and its projected income from a new unified property tax is less than the troika's target; reforms to legislation governing mass layoffs in the private sector; the reduction of employers' social security contributions; and the gradual abolition of taxes for third parties.

The government hopes thhat a full agreement can be reached next month on the reforms and other prior actions that Athens must implement to clinch sub-tranches of rescue funding through May. The chief aim is to ensure that there are no loose ends with the troika as Greece goes to the polls, especially as political tensions are rising.