Technical talks start in Brussels amid confusion about Athens visit

Representatives of the government and the country’s international creditors are to start “technical level” talks in Brussels on Wednesday following an agreement thrashed out in Brussels on Monday by eurozone finance ministers, though it remained unclear when, or if, foreign auditors would visit Athens for talks.

Although the government has stressed that the so-called troika of inspectors is a thing of the past, Greece’s creditors are to be represented in Brussels by the same officials of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund that had visited Athens under the previous conservative administration. Greece will be represented in the talks by Nikos Theoharakis, the Finance Ministry’s general secretary for fiscal policy, and Giorgos Houliarakis, the head of Greece’s technical team, among others.

Officials from the two sides are to examine a set of proposals submitted by Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, including measures aimed at boosting revenue such as a controversial plan to enlist students and tourists as tax spies.

But creditors are keen to get auditors on the ground in Athens as soon as possible, not least because they have not had access to official data for nine months and are unclear about the state of Greece’s finances.

Government sources on Tuesday were quick to deny reports that representatives of the EC, ECB and IMF were to visit the General Accounting Office on Wednesday. The terse denial came after Varoufakis’s insistence after Monday’s Eurogroup that officials of the “institutions” could visit Athens separately and would be given access to data but that the three should not come together. Government sources echoed that stance on Tuesday, saying officials could visit individually for clarifications or detailed information.

The understanding in Brussels, however, seems to be that officials will come to Athens in the coming days. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble insisted on Tuesday that talks would involve the “troika” that Athens has rejected. “His ideas have to be corrected,” Schaeuble said when asked about Varoufakis’s insistence on Athens dealing with creditors individually.

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