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Euro ministers ready to grant Greece more time

 Funding tranche in the balance as troika issues mixed report on progress
Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras (l) is greeted by the President of the Eurogroup, Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker next to European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi (r) at the start of a Eurogroup finance ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium, on Monday.

A day after Greece voted a tough new austerity budget through Parliament, eurozone finance ministers gathering in Brussels indicated that the country should be given two more years of breathing space to implement tough austerity measures and reforms but stopped short of committing to the release of a crucial 31.5-billion-euro rescue loan.

As expected, finance ministers said they could not decide on the release of more aid until the troika has released its report on Greece’s debt sustainability.

Earlier in the day Eurogroup Chairman Jean-Claude Juncker sought to strike a positive note. “The general feeling is that we would like the next disbursement to be done in the most efficient way possible,” he said.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble was less encouraging, saying that he wanted to examine the troika’s report before drawing any conclusions.

International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde noted that the country needed a “real fix” not a “quick fix.”

Sources indicated that in its report the troika had found Greece to have “perceptibly improved” its compliance to fiscal adjustment but that “very large risks” remain. It added that Greece might need an extra 15 billion euros in funding over the next two years and 17.6 billion in 2015 and 2016. The report also tempered praise for Greek efforts at reform with fears that “vested interests” will hamper their implementation “given that the coalition supporting the government appears fragile.”

Back in Athens, the sense of relief after a successful vote on Greece’s budget for 2013 early Monday was undercut by concerns about the stability of the coalition following the departure of more officials.

The vote passed comfortably, with 167 in favor and 128 against, but the decision by New Democracy’s Theodoros Soldatos to vote against parts of the bill and that of Democratic Left MP Yiannis Panousis to remain absent were surprising. Soldatos was ousted from ND soon after the vote, leaving the conservatives with 125 MPs.

Having lost seven MPs following a tumultuous vote on a new austerity package on Wednesday, PASOK did not suffer any defections. But earlier in the day the party’s general secretary for communications, Yiannis Datseris, resigned, after describing PASOK as a “bubble of the post-dictatorship era.” Datseris’s resignation is said to have fueled dissent within PASOK and heightened fears about the impact of the Socialists’ internal problems on the cohesion of the coalition.

In a statement on Monday after a mini-cabinet meeting at the Development Ministry, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras appeared buoyed by the successful vote and called on foreign creditors to do their bit. “We are waiting for Europe to make its move. We have done what we had to do,” he said. Samaras is due in Brussels on Tuesday for a summit dubbed “Friends of Cohesion,” where European states seeking structural funding can explore their prospects. He is due to meet with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manual Barroso.

ekathimerini.com , Monday November 12, 2012 (23:05)  
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