Greece to try for loan extension from eurozone

Greece is set to submit Wednesday to the Eurogroup a request for a six-month extension to its loan agreement with its creditors, sources close to the negotiations between Athens and the eurozone told Kathimerini Tuesday.

While the request from Athens could help the two sides overcome the impasse reached at Monday’s Eurogroup, the fact that Greece will purportedly ask to extend its loan agreement rather than its program could lead to complications.

The Greek side is apparently willing to agree to a moratorium on any steps that could affect the country’s fiscal targets and is ready to discuss other measures but is not willing to adopt the terms of the existing bailout. The proposal is due to be sent to Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem this morning and the Dutch finance minister will decide if it merits calling an extraordinary meeting of eurozone finance chiefs for Friday.

A European Union official told Kathimerini’s Brussels correspondent Eleni Varvitsioti that the problem with Greece asking for an extension of its loan agreement and not the terms that come with it may create problems in parliaments such as Germany’s, which have to approve the prolongation of the agreement.

Dijsselbloem suggested after Monday’s Eurogroup that existing program measures could not be scrapped without the approval of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund but that the eurozone would be open to discussing their replacement with other measures. He also called on Greece not to take any unilateral steps.

However, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras appeared to challenge this idea as he announced Tuesday that the government would begin submitting to Parliament this week legislation that runs counter to lenders’ wishes.

Tsipras said that his government would start tabling from Wednesday bills aimed at protecting primary residences from foreclosure, reversing some of the deregulation in the labor market and introducing a new scheme for allowing taxpayers to pay off their overdue debts to the state in up to 100 installments.

“We are working hard for a honorable agreement that will not include austerity and the memorandum that destroyed Greece over the past few years,” said Tsipras. “We want an agreement that will not include the toxic presence of the troika. Anything else is not an agreement, it is a surrender.”

The prime minister said that the Greek delegation had accepted on Monday the text of an agreement put together by the European Commission and its Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici but that this deal was altered 15 minutes before the Eurogroup began for a text that Athens could not accept.

Tsipras also criticized German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who said earlier this week that he felt “pity” for Greek people due to their “irresponsible” government. Tsipras accused the German politician of losing his cool and making “derogatory” remarks.

“With respect, I would like to remind Mr Schaeuble that he should pity people who walk with their heads bowed,” said Tsipras to applause from SYRIZA MPs.

Schaeuble, though, continued to speak disparagingly of Tsipras and his “famous economist,” Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis. He accused the Greek government of being badly prepared and unclear about its demands.

“The question still remains if Greece wants a program at all or not,” he told reporters in Brussels after a meeting of EU finance ministers. “All of us… want the eurozone to stay together but everyone must do their part and it’s a decision that’s up to Athens alone … On February 28, at midnight, it’s over.”