European officials meeting in Brussels agreed on Monday that troika officials would return to Athens this week to resume stalled negotiations but indicated that a discussion on debt relief would likely not start until after the summer when Greece is confident it can tap international bond markets.
“The troika intends to return to Athens later this week,” Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said after a meeting of eurozone finance ministers. He said authorities “must now work with the troika so that the review mission can be successfully concluded.” Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said the envoys would be in Athens “by Sunday.”
Earlier Dijsselbloem played down the need to come up with a plan to reduce Greece’s public debt before the European Parliament elections in May. “If the current program and all the conditions are fulfilled, then further disbursements can take place before May that will finance Greece right into August,” he said.
Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, said the priority for Athens remained tying up loose ends from the reform program. “Greece and the troika have to concur that Greece is taking the steps that have been agreed in the program,” he told. “That condition must be met and then the next tranche can be paid.” German press reports over the weekend suggested that Chancellor Angela Merkel has blocked Schaeuble’s attempt to provide further aid to Greece before the European elections.
European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn also pressed Athens to focus on reforms. “It is in everyone’s interest, especially Greece’s, to do what it must do,” he said, adding that the troika’s review could be finished by March and aid subsequently disbursed. Rehn said the fact the troika was returning to Athens was a positive development but added that it would not be easy for an agreement to be reached.
Back in Athens, in an apparent bid to offset the negative news about the delay to debt relief talks, sources close to Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said Greece was confident it could return to bond markets in the second half of this year. Meanwhile Samaras repeated his pledge to return the bulk of a primary surplus Greece is expected to post this year to low-income pensioners and military and security services staff.
In a related development, former Premier George Papandreou claimed that the governments he had led in 2010 and 2011 had laid the groundwork for Greece’s primary surplus.