Eurogroup’s Dijsselbloem says Greek debt relief talks can resume

Eurogroup’s Dijsselbloem says Greek debt relief talks can resume

Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem said on Saturday talks about initial Greek debt relief measures would be resumed after being frozen mid-month over Greece's decision to pay pensioners a Christmas bonus.

Dijsselbloem said creditors had agreed to recommence talks after he received a letter from Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos reaffirming the government's commitment to reforms demanded as part of Greece's third bailout.

"I'm happy to conclude that we have cleared the way … to go ahead with the decision-making procedures for the short-term debt measures, which will be conducted in January," Dijsselbloem said in a statement.

The Eurogroup, or group of finance ministers of countries that are members of the single European currency, had agreed in early December to work towards a limited debt relief package for Greece, mostly in the form of measures to extend low-interest rate loans.

The package would have amounted to roughly a 20 percent cut in Greece's 200 billion euro debt load by 2060, while putting off a decision on more fundamental relief until after German and Dutch elections in 2017.

Eurozone creditors froze the talks in protest at the Greek government's pensions bonus, saying they had not been consulted.

Leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said the payout to retirees and other pre-Christmas perks were warranted, given that the country had surpassed targets for spending cuts and tax revenues in 2016.

Greece agreed to austerity measures including pension reforms as part of the bailout deal it struck with creditors in August 2015. The bailout is worth 86 billion euros but it is only paid out in increments in case the country is thought to have reneged on its pledges.

Dijsselbloem said the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the European Union agency that oversees disbursements, can continue working toward a decision on the modest debt relief plan.

"This again confirms that we continue to work constructively together towards a sustainable financial and economic future for Greece," he said. [Reuters]

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