Gov’t prepares for troika talks as EU presidency looms

Amid a tense political climate, and with the country’s assumption of the European Union’s rotating presidency looming, government officials are already preparing for the return of troika officials in the middle of next month, Kathimerini understands.

Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, whom Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has repeatedly backed despite growing criticism by many coalition deputies to an ongoing austerity drive, appears keen to complete the next round of economic reforms pledged to the troika before a Eurogroup summit on January 27.

In addition to the next tranche of rescue funding, a sum of 4.9 billion euros, the scheduled takeover of the EU presidency is a strong incentive.

“Greece can’t hold the EU presidency and have unresolved issues with the troika,” Stournaras said.

“We’ll be trying to push for banking union and someone will disagree and bring up the issue of the troika and our negotiations,” he said, adding that “we definitely have to wrap them up.”

Troika envoys are expected to be in Athens on January 13, Kathimerini understands, and not on January 8 when Athens is scheduled to welcome EU officials for an official ceremony to assume the bloc’s presidency.

The key issues on the agenda of talks are expected to be a projected fiscal gap for 2014, which the troika estimates at around 1.4 billion euros, and the progress of a delayed overhaul of the civil service, as well as lagging tax collection and a slow-moving privatization drive.

According to sources, there was annoyance in the ranks of the troika – particularly on the side of the International Monetary Fund – at the government’s unilateral decision to extend a 13 percent tax on restaurants and food services, which was reduced from 23 percent in the summer in a bid to boost the tourism sector and languishing small businesses.

A high-ranking European Commission official told Kathimerini that the agenda for negotiations would be “crammed” at the beginning but that he expected talks to become easier once the issue of the fiscal gap is resolved.

The official said he was optimistic a deal could be reached before January’s Eurogroup summit.

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