Tsipras gears up for first EU summit

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is on Thursday due to take part in his first European Union leaders’ summit, where he is expected to set out his government’s proposals for a bridging agreement with the eurozone a day after Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis did so at the Eurogroup in Brussels.

Tsipras is due to meet Belgian Premier Charles Michel ahead of the European Council but it is not clear if he will also hold talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the sidelines of the two-day summit. Sources said that Tsipras had been advised by a number of European officials to hold private talks with Merkel.

On Tuesday, Tsipras received an invitation to visit China from Premier Li Keqiang. A team of Greek officials will be sent to Beijing to prepare for Tsipras’s trip, the date of which is not yet known. China has shown an interest in a number of investments in Greece, particularly the Piraeus Port Authority, whose privatization is in doubt.

“We are willing to keep deepening cooperation and exchanges in all areas with the new Greek government on the basis of the principle of mutual respect and win-win to push the continued development of Sino-Greek ties,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, who denied any knowledge of proposals for loans from China to Greece, as some Greek officials had suggested.

Thursday’s EU summit will be an opportunity for Tsipras to explain to his counterparts the deal that the new Greek government is searching for from the eurozone. This includes asking for an increase in the 15-billion-euro limit on treasury bills that Athens can issue and lower fiscal targets.

Greece’s proposals were put on the table at Wednesday’s Eurogroup, where Varoufakis was joined by Deputy Prime Minister Yiannis Dragasakis, who is overseeing the negotiating process.

Arriving at the Eurogroup, Varoufakis exchanged only a couple of words with reporters, who asked him whether a possible Greek exit from the eurozone was on the cards. “Absolutely not,” he said.

On her arrival, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde said she had had “constructive” talks with Varoufakis. “They are competent, intelligent, they’ve thought about their issues,” Lagarde told reporters of the Greek delegation. “We have to listen to them, we are starting to work together and it is a process that is starting and is going to last a certain time,” she said.

Asked about his expectations from the talks, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said, “It all depends on Mr Varoufakis and what he brings to the table.” In a light dig at the objection of Greek government officials to troika auditors, Schaeuble said, “The troika will continue implementing the Greek program, which we obviously won’t be able to call the troika anymore.”