Greece, creditors to start technical talks in Brussels

Representatives of the Greek government and the country’s international creditors are to start “technical level” talks in Brussels Wednesday, it was decided Monday following a summit of eurozone finance ministers where the government submitted a set of seven proposals for economic reforms.

“We agreed there is no further time to lose,” Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem, told a news conference.

The Eurogroup chief said he aimed for an agreement “as soon as possible” but underlined that no funding would be disbursed “if there is no agreement or no implementation.” He said talks would begin in Brussels Wednesday, adding that international experts would also “work together” in Athens.

In comments at a separate briefing later Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said technical teams would discuss the government’s first seven proposals Wednesday and “another batch of seven or eight” next week. He noted that Athens would welcome members of the “institutions” for talks but opposed the idea of “a cabal of technocrats” visiting the capital together to impose austerity and insisted that the old troika was a thing of the past.

He added that the meeting was “a decisive step towards implementing” last month’s deal with the Eurogroup.

Varoufakis also ruled out the prospect of a referendum, saying his comments in a recent interview had been distorted.

After the meeting Monday, a government official indicated that Greece’s reform proposals, which include a controversial idea for tourists and students being hired as tax spies, had been “accepted on a political level.”

The same sources indicated that creditors had expressed their willingness to solve Greece’s funding problem without delay.

However, sources indicated that the atmosphere in Brussels was far from cordial. In a sign of the tense climate and lack of communication between Greece and its creditors, Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan told reporters in Brussels before the Eurogroup that negotiations would continue under the leadership of “the office of Greece’s deputy prime minister,” referring to the alleged change as “significant logistic progress.” Yiannis Dragasakis’s office was quick to react, saying that there had been “no change of plan” as regards negotiations and that “the Greek government is represented at the Eurogroup by Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis.”

Earlier in the day, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe faced a significant challenge in reaching an agreement to keep Greece in the eurozone. “I have said time and time again, and I can say it again here, our political goal is to keep Greece in the eurozone. We have been working on this for many years,” she said. “But it’s also true that there are two sides to this coin – on the one hand solidarity from European partners, and on the other the readiness to implement reforms and other commitments at home. On this, we clearly have a very difficult path ahead of us.”

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