Troika says Greece makes reform progress, some issues remain

Greece is making significant progress in reforms required to receive the next tranche of emergency loans, international lenders said in a statement on Thursday, but some issues remain and Athens needs time to complete the work.

Representatives of the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank said they would return to Greece in early April to continue their review.

“As additional technical work will be necessary to settle these issues, the mission will take a short break to allow this work to be completed,” the statement said.

Talks between Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and troika officials lasted for a couple of hours on Wednesday night but no conclusion was reached on matters including the reduction of civil servant numbers and a payment plan for firms and individuals who owe social security contributions.

Despite the apparent impasse in the discussions, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras insisted that the two sides were edging toward a deal and that Greece’s next loan tranche of 2.8 billion euros was not in danger.

“There has been significant progress in the talks with the troika,” Stournaras told journalists after leaving the talks at the Maximos Mansion, in which he also took part.

“The negotiations will continue when the troika representatives return. There is no issue with the loan tranche,” he added.

Stournaras said that just “technical issues” remained to be resolved between the two sides but the indications were that there are still substantial differences on a range of concerns.

The minister did not specify which matters are still the subject of negotiations but over the past few days negotiations focused on civil service firings, the continuation of the emergency property tax introduced in 2011 and how to recover unpaid taxes and social security contributions.

Another issue being debated by the two sides is the possibility of bank customers being given more favorable terms to repay their loans and mortgages. Development Minister Costis Hatzidakis indicated there was little progress on this issue as well.

“There is nothing new on the loans issue to come out of tonight’s meeting,” he said.

EU summit

Meanwhile Samaras was on Thursday scheduled to travel to Brussels for a summit of EU leaders that is expected to focus on soaring unemployment and biting austerity.

The summit will endorse plans for “structural” assessments of national budgets, according to a draft statement obtained by Bloomberg News.

“Substantial progress is being made toward structurally balanced budgets and that progress must continue,” reads the statement. The focus is on “growth- friendly fiscal consolidation.”

Samaras will return to Athens on Friday. [Combined reports]

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