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Euro zone argues into the night with Greece on bailout terms

Euro zone argues into the night with Greece on bailout terms
July 13, 2015
BRUSSELS - Euro zone leaders argued late into the night with near-bankrupt Greece at an emergency summit, demanding that Athens enact key reforms this week to restore trust before they will open talks on a financial rescue to keep it in the European currency area. Leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was told to push legislation through parliament to convince his 18 partners in the euro zone to release immediate funds to avert a state bankruptcy and start negotiations on a third bailout programme estimated at up to 86 billion euros ($95.5 billion). Six sweeping measures including tax and pension reforms must be enacted by Wednesday night and the entire package endorsed by parliament before talks can start, a draft decision by Eurogroup finance ministers sent to the leaders showed. The document included a German proposal to make Greece take a "time-out" from the euro zone if it fails to meet the conditions. But a senior EU source said the idea was illegal and would be dropped from the summit statement if Tsipras accepted other deeply unpalatable terms. Tsipras said on arrival in Brussels he wanted "another honest compromise" to keep Europe united. But German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country is the biggest contributor to euro zone bailouts, said the conditions were not yet right to start negotiations, sounding cautious in deference to mounting opposition at home to more aid for Greece. "The most important currency has been lost and that is trust," she told reporters. "That means that we will have tough discussions and there will be no agreement at any price." If Greece meets the conditions, the German parliament would meet on Thursday to mandate Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble to open the talks on a new loan. Then Eurogroup finance ministers could meet again on Friday or at the weekend to formally launch the negotiations. As the marathon summit dragged into early Monday morning, with breaks for private meetings between Tsipras and the French, German and EU leaders, markets in Asia-Pacific marked the euro down and bought safe-haven bonds. The absence of deal in Brussels also hit pre-market trading in the United States. EU officials said the biggest of several sticking points was Germany's insistence that Greek state assets worth 50 billion euros be placed in a trust fund in Luxembourg to be sold off with proceeds going directly to pay down debt. The EU says experts evaluate Greek assets earmarked for privatisation at just 7 billion euros. One diplomat said that was tantamount to turning Greece into a "German protectorate", stripping it of more sovereignty. Another diplomat said Merkel had declared the matter a "red line" for Germany and insisted that the International Monetary Fund be fully involved in any third bailout for Greece, despite resistance from Athens. Tsipras, for his part, was insisting on a stronger commitment by the creditors to restructure Greek debt to make it sustainable in the medium-term. An EU official said several options were being discussed to give Greece bridging funds once it passed the laws, including releasing European Central Bank profits on Greek bonds, tapping an emergency fund run by the European Commission, or bilateral loans from friendly countries such as France. Two official French sources denied that any bridging loan was planned. Finance ministers said Greece needed 7 billion euros of funding by July 20, when it must make a crucial bond redemption to the European Central Bank, and a total of 12 billion euros by mid-August when another ECB payment falls due. Some diplomats questioned whether it was feasible to rush the package through the Greek parliament in just three days. Tsipras is set to sack ministers who did not support his negotiating position in a vote last Friday and make dissident lawmakers in his Syriza party resign their seats, people close to the government said. - Reuters
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