Troika ups pressure on Athens

Pressure on the government to make concessions to the troika grew on Monday as European officials indicated that a review by the country’s creditors must resume within the next couple of days if it is to be completed in time for a Eurogroup summit on December 8 when Greece’s post-bailout prospects are to be discussed.

By late last night it remained unclear when troika mission chiefs would return to Athens as the government and foreign officials continued to diverge on several key issues. Despite the apparent deadlock, Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis rebuffed reports that Greece had been given a 48-hour deadline to reach an agreement with creditors though he conceded that inspectors had not set a date for their return.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his coalition partner, PASOK chief Evangelos Venizelos, are to meet Tuesday at 3 p.m. to discuss the situation. Sources close to the premier said the negotiations taking place by e-mail between Greek and troika officials are “extremely tough.” Venizelos struck a similar tone but indicated that the leftist opposition SYRIZA was chiefly to blame, noting that progress would be much easier if “we did not have such a barren and non-productive domestic political situation.” SYRIZA spokesman Panos Skourletis claimed that the government and the troika were one and the same, noting that Samaras consistently defended austerity policies.

A European Union official with knowledge of Greece’s negotiations with the troika told Kathimerini that there are still substantial differences to be resolved between the two sides before inspectors can return to Athens. A key bone of contention is the size of the fiscal gap for next year which the troika estimates to be more than 3 billion euros with the Greek side putting it closer to 1 billion euros. The government is keen to bridge this gap in the coming days as it must submit the budget for 2015 by Friday. As regards the settlement of tax debts, Kathimerini understands that the troika wants fewer installments than the 100 provided for by a new law as well as stricter criteria for debtors to qualify for the payment plan.

Several other issues remain open, including the matter of pension reform and layoffs in the public sector. The coalition partners also have differences between them, with PASOK objecting to any changes to the labor market while New Democracy is understood to be more flexible on this issue. Also PASOK is open to revoking special value-added tax status on the islands, a prospect that many in ND reject.

In a related development, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi on Monday caused controversy by saying he did not believe Greece’s debt needs to be restructured. He also said Greece had benefited from its economic reforms.

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