Troika back in town next week

The third and toughest visit so far from Greece’s international lenders starts on Thursday as they arrive in Athens to check on the course of the Greek economy and to decide on whether to approve the next loan tranche, which is worth 15 billion euros. The Finance Ministry realizes that it can no longer take advantage of any flexibility provided in the past, such as additional time the government was given due to local elections held in November. Checks by representatives from the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission, commonly known as the troika, are expected to be tough and will focus on every part of the memorandum Greece signed in May last year in exchange for the 110-billion-euro loan. Talks will start with lower-level troika officials on Thursday, while their senior peers are due in the country the following week. The checks will focus on whether the promised changes have gone ahead, in line with the agreed-upon time frame. There is likely to be strong interest in the implementation of reforms since the 2010 budget largely succeeded in meeting annual goals. Another area that will draw their attention will be the opening of so-called closed professions. The government has put up for public discussion a draft bill dropping entry barriers to several professions as well as a rigid fee structure. However, the law regarding lawyers and engineers has been provided with a loophole, allowing the professions to retain their minimum fees. The troika is also expected to comb through reforms to state-owned companies including the Athens Urban Transport Organization (OASA). Finance Ministry officials appear confident that the next tranche will be approved, stressing that the payment is the most crucial as it could send a message to markets that Greece is on the right path to getting its finances in order.