Athens seeks nod from Eurogroup but officials skeptical

There is hope in Athens that Monday’s Eurogroup will bring a positive statement from eurozone finance ministers on the state of progress in talks between Greece and its lenders but European officials believe there is still a lot of work to be done over the next few days.

The Euro Working Group of technical experts is due to meet on Friday via teleconference to assess how far talks have advanced and what else needs to be done to move closer to an agreement. There is a wide range of issues that need to be resolved, including a new value-added tax rate, macroeconomic and fiscal targets, labor market reforms and pension cuts.

“I hope on Monday a sign of progress will be given and [eurozone finance ministers say] an agreement is visible,” Deputy Prime Minister Yiannis Dragasakis told the Guardian. “Talks, so far, have shown there is common ground in changes and political measures and, therefore, I believe a deal is possible and in the interests of everyone.”

However, government spokesman Gavriil Sakellaridis stressed during a regular press briefing that the SYRIZA-led coalition would not give in to all of the demands made by creditors.

“There should not be an expectation on the part of institutions… that the government will back down on everything,” he said. “When you negotiate, there should be mutual concessions. We won’t go beyond the limits of our red lines. It’s clear that we cannot cut pensions.”

The differences between Greece and its lenders over some key issues mean that officials in Brussels are skeptical about the possibility of the Eurogroup noting significant progress in talks when it meets on Monday. European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said on Thursday that it is “premature” to discuss whether a common statement will be issued.

French Finance Minister Michel Sapin called for a “push toward a compromise” at Monday’s meeting. “We will not get there on the 11th but in the days that follow because it is absolutely necessary,” Sapin said.

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis agreed action was quickly needed. “I trust that an agreement will be in the offing in the next days, mostly weeks,” he said at a business forum in Brussels.

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