Greek officials and the country’s creditors extended discussions through the weekend, as they raced to make progress ahead of the meeting of euro-area finance ministers in Brussels on Monday.
While negotiators sought an agreement, government leaders back home reiterated their markers. For Greece, that means no discussions to continue its current bailout program, government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis told Skai TV this morning. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, meantime, said that even as officials hold talks over Greece’s debt load, they aren’t willing to write it off.
The government is “determined to abide with its commitment to the Greek people and its fresh mandate” for ending austerity,’’ Sakellaridis said.
Meetings dragged on in Athens, where the government held preparative discussions, and Brussels, where officials from Greece’s Finance and Foreign Ministries held “technical” talks with the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank, with the goal of laying the groundwork for a successor program. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said it’s too early to say if there’s a deal in the making.
Since coming to power in an election last month, Tsipras has maintained his pledge to help Greeks by reversing the austerity imposed under the country’s bailout. That’s led to clashes with other European governments. Germany, the biggest country contributor to bailouts, has led calls for Greece to stick to its political promises regardless of any change in government, while France and Italy have been more sympathetic to Greece’s efforts to secure bridge financing while it works out a longer-term plan.
In the face of opposition, the Greek government has already watered down its position on the debt, ditching a pre-election pledge for a writedown in its nominal value.
Greece has more than 320 billion euros ($365 billion) in debt outstanding, about 175 percent of GDP, mostly in the form of bailout loans from the euro area and the IMF.
Frustration over the insurmountable pile of debt — even after the world’s biggest-ever restructuring in 2012 — and the dismal economic state helped Tsipras and his anti-austerity Syriza party topple former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s New Democracy in last month’s elections.
“We’re looking at difficult negotiations on Monday,” Tsipras told Germany’s Stern magazine. “Nevertheless, I’m full of confidence.”
Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said that both sides have agreed on many issues already, according to an interview with Kathimerini newspaper published on Saturday.
Greece is seeking a bridge agreement for the next six months that will replace its current bailout. That will secure its financing needs to give officials time to discuss “a new deal” with the euro area, Tsipras said in a press conference after the Feb. 12 EU summit.
“We will of course discuss the debts; it is out of the question to cancel the debt, we can discuss its maturity,” Fabius told Europe 1 radio on Sunday. “Previous discussions didn’t yield any result in the beginning, now it’s moving slowly.”
While the Greek government’s position may not have many fans among its peers, some 61 percent of 1,015 people polled by Kapa Research for To Vima newspaper yesterday said they approve of it. Greeks will hold support rallies this afternoon for Tsipras’s government in Athens and other big cities, including Thessaloniki, Volos and Patra.
“We need time rather than money to put into effect our reform plan,” Tspiras said after convening a meeting of his cabinet in Athens Friday night, Stern reported. “I promise you, within six months Greece will then be a different country.”