NEWS

Stournaras to face pressure for troika deal as elections loom

Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras is due back in Brussels on Monday where he is expected to come under pressure to push forward troika-mandated economic reforms amid reports that European officials are keen for the Greek government to wrap up negotiations quickly and shift its focus to European Parliament elections in May which are expected to be hotly contested.

Ahead of Monday’s Eurogroup, a top-ranking European official told Kathimerini that there is a desire for resolution. “Europeans want the evaluation of 2013 to conclude as soon as possible,” the official said, referring to a troika review that began in September. The official added that Europeans were prepared to tone down their demands as regards the thornier issues being negotiated, such as calls for relaxing restrictions on mass layoffs in the private sector and pressure for privatizations.

A key concern is to ensure that Prime Minister Antonis Samaras does not have additional political pressure on him ahead of elections in May when the leftist, anti-bailout SYRIZA is expected to make significant gains, as is the neo-fascist Golden Dawn.

Athens hopes that it can wrap up negotiations with troika officials, who are expected to return to Athens later this week, in time for the next scheduled Eurogroup summit on March 10.

The key sticking points in talks between Greece and the troika are the creditors’ demands for the adoption of a series of structural reforms set out in a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the size of a primary surplus. The latter, once approved by the European Commission’s statistics service Eurostat, will provide the basis for the launch of discussions on much-desired debt relief for Greece. It remains unclear what form debt relief would take.

A senior European official told Kathimerini that a possible “haircut” on Greek debt had not been ruled out and was still on the table of proposals and being discussed along with an extension for loan repayments as a possible solution. However, the International Monetary Fund, which has long been emphasizing the need for a Greek haircut, is expected to soften it stance as the Fund’s managing director, Christine Lagarde, is interested in seeking the post of European Commission president, a European official told Kathimerini.

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