NEWS

Greece awaits eurozone verdict

Greece believes it has met all the conditions demanded by its eurozone partners and is hoping that the Eurogroup will approve on Monday a new bailout, although there is speculation that a final decision will be taken at a special eurozone leaders? summit in Brussels on March 2.

Government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis on Thursday confirmed that Athens had found how it would save 325 million euros, as demanded by the eurozone, and had no more loose ends to tie up. ?The process for the new program and the cuts have been concluded,? he said. ?There are no more economic issues outstanding.?

Kapsis denied that during a teleconference on Wednesday some eurozone finance ministers had suggested obtaining from Greece?s smaller parties a commitment to the package of austerity measures and structural reforms Parliament passed on Sunday.

Kapsis also declined to respond to a suggestion from German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble that Greece should postpone elections planned for April and install a technocratic government instead. ?I have nothing to say in response to Mr Schauble,? said Kapsis. ?It is absolutely up to Greece when to hold elections.?

Tension has grown this week between Greece and some of its eurozone partners over the conditions Athens has to meet for the next bailout of at least 130 billion euros.

Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager added to the pressure on Greece Thursday. ?We?re back at square one,? he told Dutch MPs. ?Greece is in a much worse state than had been anticipated at the time.?

When eurozone leaders agreed on more help for Greece in October, the country?s debt was expected to fall to 120 percent of GDP by 2020, which was taken to be the maximum threshold. The new level is now expected to be closer to 129 percent, according to the latest study by the International Monetary Fund.

In a new development aimed at reducing this debt, the European Central Bank is set to exchange its holdings of Greek bonds into new notes ahead of a deal for private bondholders to accept a haircut, eurozone sources told Reuters Thursday.

The ECB is thought to hold 50 billion euros of Greek bonds, which it bought at a discount. A swap could reduce Greek debt by another 10-15 billion euros.