Eurogroup chief cautious on early bailout exit scenario as political tensions rise

As discussions get under way between Greece and the International Monetary Fund about a potential early exit from the country’s bailout program, Eurogroup Chairman Jeroen Dijssebloem did not rule out the prospect on Monday but suggested that such a debate was premature.

Meanwhile political tensions rose in Athens with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras accusing leftist SYRIZA of trying to destabilize the country after its spokesman suggested that MPs were being bribed to support the coalition’s candidate for presidential elections early next year.

Greece’s Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis met with his eurozone peers on Monday in Luxembourg to lobby the case for an early exit and to emphasize Greece’s commitment to reforms. In comments after the summit, however, Dijsselbloem was reserved. He did not rule out the prospect of a precautionary credit line raised by IMF chief Christine Lagarde last week, noting that there was “a strong consensus” that Greece’s exit must be sustainable. But he suggested discussion about such support was premature and emphasized the need for continued reforms. Greece’s debt sustainability would be assessed by the end of the year, he added.

In comments after a meeting with Lagarde in Washington on Sunday, Hardouvelis said the Fund would “assist the Greek effort” without explicitly referring to Greece’s request for an early exit from the IMF’s arm of the bailout, which is scheduled to end in the spring of 2016.

Athens is keen to signal that an exit from the memorandum is in sight. But its creditors are not the only hurdle. Political tensions are peaking as SYRIZA remains set on forcing snap elections by blocking the coalition’s candidate for president when the incumbent’s term ends in February. On Monday, SYRIZA’s spokesman Panos Skourletis upped the ante by invoking press reports suggesting that entrepreneurs close to the government had offered to essentially buy the support of MPs to ensure the coalition clinches the 180 super-majority necessary for its candidate to be approved. Skourletis’s comment prompted the intervention of Samaras, who spoke of “despicable innuendos” and challenged SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras to substantiate the claims. Meanwhile Supreme Court prosecutor Efterpi Koutzamani ordered an investigation into whether any MPs have in fact been bribed.

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