By Sotiris Nikas
February 17 will probably be the new target date for a deal between the government and the representatives of the country’s creditors – known as the troika – as the differences existing since December are yet to be bridged.
Finance Ministry officials and troika sources say that the heads of the missions of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund will likely not return to Athens next week, which means that the January 27 target date for the completion of negotiations will be missed – even though there still are some who say a deal by that date cannot yet be ruled out.
The most likely scenario at the moment favors a convergence after the January 27 Eurogroup meeting of eurozone finance ministers and up to February 17, with a view to the disbursement of the next tranches from late February to early March.
The new delay illustrates the difficulty of the negotiations, with the troika signaling to Athens it will not return unless it is clear that an agreement can come out of the talks. In this context, it is all but certain that the troika will not arrive in Athens next week as the data the Greek government has sent to its creditors on a series of issues are considered insufficient and their assessment has not been completed yet.
There are three main fields of disagreement, concerning the fiscal gaps and promotion of structural reforms. The troika estimates this year’s fiscal gap at 1 to 1.5 billion euros and expects the government to present measures to bridge it. The Finance Ministry counters that it has already sent the creditors a list of measures of permanent character to that effect.
Then there is the fiscal gap anticipated for 2015, which the troika puts at 2 to 3 billion euros, while Athens estimates it at 1 billion euros. The exact amount will depend on whether Greece takes permanent measures this year, taking the gap to 2 billion euros, or temporary ones that would allow the gap to open up to 3 billion, according to troika estimates.
There are also certain planned reforms such as the abolition of levies in favor of third parties, numbering between 150 and 200, of which some 50 to 60 are destined for the scrap heap.