Athens braces for tough talks with troika on fiscal gap, reforms

With the government to resume tough negotiations on Tuesday with the troika amid reports of a dispute between the two sides over the size of Greece’s fiscal gap next year, officials insisted on Monday that the country and its citizens cannot endure further across-the-board austerity measures.

Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras is to meet with representatives of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund at noon for talks that are expected to focus on the fiscal gap as well as a series of prior actions that Greece has promised creditors in a bid to secure further rescue funding including an overhaul of two state defense firms, EAS and ELVO.

Labor Minister Yiannis Vroutsis is scheduled to meet the envoys at 4 p.m. for talks likely to focus on the country’s problematic social security funds whose deficits have contributed to the fiscal gap. Both ministers indicated in recent days that they are bracing for extremely difficult talks. Asked by reporters on

Monday night whether he would stick to Greece’s estimate of next year’s fiscal gap – which at 500 million euros is a fraction of the troika’s 2.5-billion-euro estimate – Stournaras appeared defiant. “We have submitted a budget, a draft,” he said. “We have sent data to show that this draft is realistic and we insist on this,” he said.

In an interview broadcast on Mega TV channel on Monday night Prime Minister Antonis Samaras also emphasized that his government would impose no new cuts on Greeks’ salaries and pensions.

Earlier in the day, European Parliament President Martin Schulz sought to underline the negative repercussions of excessive austerity and called for the troika to be more accountable. “It is not possible for the troika, which has been created legally but whose actions interfere in people’s daily lives, not to be accountable to some institution,” Schulz told a conference titled “South for Growth” in Athens.

The German official expressed concern about rising unemployment in Greece, particularly among young people. Schulz also condemned political violence, following the murder last week of two members of the ultra-right Golden Dawn, and suggested that relentless austerity had fueled the rise of the far-right in Greece. “Those who vote for extremist parties are not dedicated to Nazis, they are people in despair,” he said.

The spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Steffen Seibert, struck a different tone, rebuffing claims that political violence could be tied to ongoing austerity prescribed by foreign creditors.

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