The head of the European Union is resisting Greece's demand for an emergency leaders' summit on the country's troubled bailout program, arguing that finance officials need to resume talks and agree within days on reforms needed.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras spoke Wednesday with European Union Council President Donald Tusk to propose the meeting of leaders from the 19 European countries that use the euro currency. But Tusk sounded skeptical, arguing the finance ministers should make more progress before the leaders intervene.
Greece and its creditors – its European partners and the International Monetary Fund – have been struggling to agree on the reforms and cutbacks the country must agree to as part of its ongoing bailout program. After news of another setback on Tuesday, the Athens stock index was down 3.5 percent in midday trading.
Tsipras' left-led government had hoped that a successful conclusion of the negotiations would allow convocation of a meeting of eurozone finance ministers Thursday to approve the agreement.
But now it looks as if the impasse could severely delay a deal that Greece needs before it can start official talks with creditors on relieving its crippling debt load. An agreement would also release a long-delayed rescue loan installment, without which Athens will be unable to make scheduled payments to its creditors in the early summer.
In Brussels, Tusk said he would consult with the top officials from the eurozone and the EU executive Commission but added that the eurozone finance chiefs need to set another meeting date by which they should agree on a deal.
"I am talking not about weeks but about days," he told reporters.
Greece's finance ministry says there is agreement on creditor-demanded austerity measures worth 3 percent of GDP – or 5.4 billion euros ($6.1 billion) – by 2018. These will be achieved largely through pension and tax reforms. But disagreements remain over how to guarantee that an extra 3.6 billion euros in savings that could be needed in the future will be implemented if deemed necessary.
Labor Minister George Katrougalos said the government would not accept "additional actions" beyond what it agreed to last summer, when it abruptly abandoned its core anti-bailout policies and signed up to a third rescue loan deal worth about 86 billion euros.
It did that then after defaulting on its debt payments – which could happen again this summer without progress in the bailout negotiations – and to avoid a catastrophic exit from the eurozone.
"I think the situation is serious. I'm not underestimating it," Katrougalos told state ERT TV Wednesday. "But I'm not afraid because I know – I want to believe – that Europe is still a political union based on agreements and efforts to achieve consensus."
"I believe the [eurozone] summit will take place, and that it will result in a positive outcome, as far as our interests are concerned," he said.
Katrougalos blamed the impasse on the IMF's tough requests. [AP]