By Eleni Varvitsioti & Nikos Chrysoloras
Negotiations between Athens and its international creditors will last as long as it takes to reach an agreement, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras told the European Parliament on Wednesday in Brussels. He added that this assessment process “is difficult,” with the government trying to achieve the best possible result for the sake of the Greek people.
Nevertheless sources say the prevailing feeling among government officials is that the months-long assessment which started in September will be completed before next month’s Eurogroup meeting, scheduled for February 17.
The same sources claim that the difficulties at the moment are mostly technical, even semantic in certain instances, while as far as the substance is concerned the most important problem concerns the fiscal gap in the program that requires further cuts to reach the primary surplus planned for 2015. The measures to plug that gap have not even reached the negotiating table yet.
Despite that fresh delay, Stournaras again highlighted the progress Greece has recorded, citing the primary deficit Greece had in 2009, at 10.4 percent of gross domestic product, which turned into a primary surplus estimated at 0.4 percent of GDP in 2013. “This is the biggest and fastest fiscal adjustment ever recorded in an OECD economy,” the Greek finance minister said, referring to the member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Stournaras addressed the European Parliament as the head of the ECOFIN council of European Union economy and finance ministers for the current six-month period, and stated his priorities for the rotating presidency of the EU, which Greece presently holds. He said the biggest challenge is the agreement of member states and the European Parliament on the completion of the banking union, with the introduction of a centralized system to deal with problems related to credit institutions. Stournaras added that Athens’s aim is to reach an agreement before the end of the European Parliament’s term in April, due to the upcoming elections in May.