Government giving mixed signals on reform intentions as creditors push for action

As technical teams resume their fact-finding efforts in Athens, eurozone finance ministry officials are on Wednesday to discuss Greek proposals for reforms amid mixed signals from the government about what measures are actually on the table of talks.

The Euro Working Group discussion, which is to continue Thursday, is to assess how much progress has been made in negotiations based on a revised set of reforms that Greece sent to its creditors last week. The aim is to prepare for the next scheduled Eurogroup summit in Riga, Latvia, on April 24. If some points of convergence are achieved, there could be potential for an initial agreement that could lead to the release of at least a portion of a pending 7.2-billion-euro loan tranche.

A significant distance remains to be covered before then though and the so-called Brussels Group, comprising representatives of the Greek government and the country’s creditors, are not expected to reconvene until after Greek Orthodox Easter.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras claimed Tuesday that negotiations between Greece and its creditors are “developing and maturing.” But statements by many of Tsipras’s ministers, and legislative initiatives, appear less than conciliatory. Labor Minister Panos Skourletis on Tuesday again broached the issue of a possible delay to a payment to the International Monetary Fund, which comes due Thursday, even after Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis assured IMF chief Christine Lagarde that Athens will make the payment on time.

Another initiative certain to rile creditors is the submission of draft legislation foreseeing the rehiring of hundreds of sacked workers of the former state broadcaster ERT.

Shifting positions on possible reforms are also a red flag. Government spokesman Gavriil Sakellaridis on Tuesday ruled out the possibility of increasing value-added tax rates on certain Aegean islands, just a day after he said such VAT hikes were being negotiated.

European officials indicated Tuesday that the ball is in Greece’s court. “It’s up to Greece to make a move,” a European Commission official said.

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