NEWS

Troika due to arrive in Athens as euro exit speculation intensifies

Officials from the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund are due in Athens on Tuesday to launch the last phase of the review of Greece?s fiscal adjustment program amid a negative climate regarding the country?s future membership of the eurozone.

Speculation about Greece?s possible euro exit by German finance and economy ministers, Wolfgang Schaeuble and Phillip Roessler, over the weekend, as well as a report by Der Spiegel magazine claiming the IMF is reluctant to continue funding Athens led to a fresh round of speculation about the country?s future.

Neither the Commission, nor the IMF denied the Spiegel story on Monday, although they did not confirm it either. ?The IMF is supporting Greece in overcoming its economic difficulties,? a spokesperson for the Washington-based Fund said. ?An IMF mission will start discussions with the country?s authorities on July 24 on how to bring Greece?s economic program, which is supported by IMF financial assistance, back on track.?

?I won?t comment on any speculation of intentions of troika members,? said European Commission spokesman Antoine Colombani in response to a question by Kathimerini?s Brussels correspondent Nikos Chrysoloras.

?The decision on the next disbursement will only be taken once the review is completed,? he added. ?The Greek authorities are very much aware of the need to catch up the time lost and of the urgency of acute action to deal with the challenges that the country is facing.

?The Commission is confident that a decision on the next disbursement will be taken in the near future, though it is unlikely to happen before September.?

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is due to meet the leaders of the two other parties in his coalition government, PASOK?s Evangelos Venizelos and Democratic Left?s Fotis Kouvelis, on Thursday afternoon to discuss the 11.5 billion euros in cuts for 2013 and 2014 Athens is preparing in order to satisfy its lenders. Samaras is due to meet the troika officials on Friday, a day after they hold talks with Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras.

Stournaras, alternate minister Christos Staikouras and deputy Giorgos Mavraganis had a long meeting on Monday in a bid to drum up another 2.5 billion euros in savings and present troika officials with the promised 11.5-billion-euro package of cuts for 2013 and 2014.

Ministry officials reportedly asked employees of the General Accounting Office (GAO) to propose methods of coming up with long- or short-term savings along with a costed assessment of their relative benefits to the state budget. The notice sent to the GAO staff reportedly asks them to ?join the national effort to nurse the national economy back to health.?

The effort to finalize the 11.5-billion-euro package is broadly based on a report by the Center of Planning and Economic Research (KEPE) which recommends a range of measures, including setting a ceiling on pensions, worth an estimated total of 5.1 billion euros. The combined efforts of the various ministries added another 3 billion euros to the running total with an additional 1 billion euros reportedly scraped together in last night?s meeting.

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