BUSINESS

Athens ready to delay some election pledges, says Varoufakis

By Francesca Landini

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said on Friday he was confident Athens could reach a deal by April 20 with its international creditors on the reforms it must implement to unblock further aid.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a business conference in northern Italy, Varoufakis also said Greece's new leftist government was prepared to delay some of its promised anti-austerity measures in an effort to win EU backing.

"We can complete the review of the 20th of February agreement... We have a commitment, all of us, to reach an agreement by the 20th of April,» Varoufakis said.

The government was elected in January on a pledge to roll back austerity and renegotiate the terms of a 240 billion-euro international bailout, but it has faced fierce resistance from EU partners who are unwilling to offer Athens major compromises.

Although the partners agreed on Feb. 20 to a four-month extension to the bailout programme, the accord did not give Greece access to funds pledged to it from the euro zone and the International Monetary Fund.

To obtain that cash, Athens needs to agree on a revised package of measures. After long delays, the discussions only kicked off in earnest this week in Brussels.

Varoufakis indicated on Friday a willingness to compromise.

"If this means that, for the next few months that we have negotiations, we suspend or we delay the implementation of our (election) promises, we should do precisely that in the context to build trust with our partners...,» he said.

He also reiterated that Greece was in a position to meet its debt payment obligations and that it was not looking for support from outside Europe, including Russia and China.

With funds running low, the government would like to issue more short-term bills, expecting domestic Greek lenders to mop up the offers in order to help stave off possible default.

But the European Central Bank is unwilling to allow Greek banks to load up further on potentially risky debt and is refusing to lift a cap on the amount of bills they can buy.

However, the ECB made just such a gesture in 2012, when the newly elected government of then-prime minister Antonis Samaras needed more money, and Varoufakis asked for the same treatment.

"I believe this is a similar situation we are facing now, and that it would be helpful if the ECB showed the same kind of flexibility today given that this government is so very committed to establish the process that will implement the agreement of Feb. 20,” he said.

[Reuters]

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