Euro zone demands more from Greece, delays decision on aid
BRUSSELS -Skeptical euro zone finance ministers demanded on Saturday that Greece go beyond painful austerity measures accepted by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras if he wants them to open negotiations on a third bailout for his bankrupt country to keep it in the euro.
The ministers postponed until Sunday a decision on whether to recommend starting talks on a new loan for Athens and sought further commitments first on product market liberalization, labor laws, privatization, state reform and more defense cuts, plus a promise to pass key laws next week, officials said.
The Eurogroup session will resume on Sunday, five hours before heads of state and government of the 19-nation currency area are to meet to decide on Greece’s fate in the euro zone.
After the nine-hour session adjourned at midnight, Eurogroup chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem told reporters the talks were very difficult and would resume at 11 a.m. (0900 GMT).
“The issue of credibility and trust was discussed and also, of course, the financial issues,” he said.
Highlighting the depth of reluctance to grant another rescue to Greece after two bailouts since 2010 worth 240 billion euros, Germany’s finance ministry put forward a paper demanding stronger Greek measures or a five-year “time-out” from the euro zone that looked like a disguised expulsion.
Ministers lined up to vent their anger at Tsipras on arrival at their umpteenth emergency meeting on Greece’s debt crisis, with Athens staring into an economic abyss unless it wins a pledge of fresh aid before financial markets reopen on Monday.
There were also strains among Greece’s partners, with some readier than others to cut a deal. One source close to the talks said Dijsselbloem decided to adjourn when discussions grew heated on what exactly Athens should be asked to do and when.
EU officials forecast a deal would be reached by the end of the weekend to keep Greece afloat, but there was consensus among the other 18 ministers that the leftist government in Athens must take further steps to convince them it would honor any new promises and repay its debts.
Tsipras won parliamentary backing early on Saturday for a tough reform package that largely mirrored measures previously demanded by international creditors but rejected by Greek voters at his behest in a referendum last Sunday.
Wolfgang Schaeuble, finance minister of top creditor Germany and a stickler for the EU’s fiscal rules, said negotiations would be “exceptionally difficult”. Emerging optimism about Greece had been “destroyed in an incredible way in the last few months” since Tsipras won power, he said. – Reuters