Free Press Journal

Greece deal in doubt at crucial debt talks


Brussels: Greece’s international creditors poured cold water on the chances of a breakthrough at an emergency summit today aimed at finding a deal to save Athens from default and a possible exit from the euro. European paymaster Germany warned that eleventh-hour reform proposals submitted by leftist Greek premier Alexis Tsipras were not “substantial”, with France seeing a breakthrough only in coming days.

The rainy weather reflected the mood in Brussels as a succession of eurozone ministers dampened earlier market-boosting hopes that leaders meeting later could seal a deal to end the five-month standoff.

“I do not know of any new proposals. We do not have any substantial proposals until now,” said Wolfgang Schaeuble, the hardline finance minister of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Tsipras’ new offer is a last-ditch bid to avoid defaulting on a 1.5-billion-euro IMF payment on June 30 and prevent Athens from crashing out of the single currency and possibly the EU.

Discussions between Greece’s radical government and its lenders have been stalled by disagreements over fresh austerity measures demanded in exchange for the final 7.2 billion euro tranche of its international bailout, which also expires at the end of the month.

Tsipras was elected in January promising to end five years of austerity caused by bailouts, and his office said today the new offer still refused concessions on key red lines, including on budget targets, pensions and increasing the VAT on electricity.

“We’re here to conclude a viable economic accord,” Tsipras said as he arrived to EU headquarters for meetings with his country’s creditors — the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.

But with officials saying that there had been confusion overnight with Greece apparently initially sending the wrong proposals, Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem said it would be “impossible to have a final assessment” on Monday.

The emergency eurozone summit was called last week by EU President Donald Tusk in a bid to resolve the crisis at the highest level after finance minister-level talks collapsed last week.

Tsipras has long been trying to get the issue dealt with at the political level by EU leaders, with Athens resisting cutting a deal with ministers and technocrats at the number-crunching level.

Ahead of the summit, Tsipras sat down today with Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF, the Washington-based creditor that has taken the toughest line against Greece, and a top official of the ECB.

The ECB is a key player in the crisis amid growing fears of a bank run in Greece, and on Monday it again decided to inject more emergency funding into the cash-strapped country to cover withdrawals of cash by worried depositors.