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Eurogroup chief says 'not enough' progress in Greek debt talks

Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem on Tuesday said he was unimpressed with the progress made in debt talks with Greece, after Athens claimed to have submitted a "realistic" plan to its creditors.

[ATHENS] Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem on Tuesday said he was unimpressed with the progress made in debt talks with Greece, after Athens claimed to have submitted a "realistic" plan to its creditors.

"There is some progress, but it's really not enough," Mr Dijsselbloem said on Dutch television of the talks aimed at unlocking 7.2 billion euros in remaining bailout funds and helping Athens make a critical repayment on Friday.

"We're still nowhere far enough, that's the conclusion and time is pressing," said Mr Dijsselbloem, who is also the Dutch finance minister.

Earlier on Tuesday, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had raised hope of a breakthrough after four months of fractious talks.

"Last night a complete plan was submitted... a realistic plan to take the country out of the crisis," Mr Tsipras told reporters in Athens.

"We have made concessions because a negotiation demands concessions, we know these concessions will be difficult," the leader of the country's left-wing Syriza government admitted.

In Brussels, the European Union called the exchange of documents a positive step but stopped short of confirming it had received Greece's reform plan.

"Many documents are being exchanged between the institutions and the Greek authorities... The fact that documents are being exchanged is a good sign," European Commission spokeswoman Annika Breidthardt said.

Asked about the possibility of a deal, she added: "We're not there yet."

The Greek government said the proposals were in line with a column Tsipras wrote and was published in France's Le Monde daily on Monday.

In it the 40-year-old prime minister defended his government's determination to bolster labour rights in a country staggering under massive unemployment.

Mr Tsipras added that his administration would implement a series of privatisations that it had previously opposed, and reform the value added tax system as well as the pension system.

"I am confident, I believe the political leadership of Europe will approach our positions with respect and join the side of realism," Mr Tsipras said.

The move came as the chiefs of the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank met with the leaders of Germany and France and the head of the European Commission on Monday to reportedly come up with a "final proposal" to put to Athens.

A government source told AFP that a 46-page draft agreement had been submitted, but declined to go into further detail.

Mr Dijsselbloem said that while there could be some concessions on the bailout package, there would be no half-way compromises.

"The bottom line is not that we can meet each other halfway, the whole package must be solid," he told RTL television.

A European source close to the negotiations nevertheless reported tangible progress in the talks.

"There is a clear political push to complete a deal this week," the official told AFP.

The creditors in Europe and the IMF are pushing for greater reforms in return for the cash, which Greece's anti-austerity government has refused to match.

Greece is staring at a Friday deadline to repay more than 300 million euros to the IMF. Overall it needs to repay the global lender some 1.6 billion euros this month, funds it currently lacks.

But Mr Dijsselbloem said it was impossible for bailout payments to resume this week, although the Eurogroup is reportedly mulling some kind of possible temporary aid for Greece.

"If there's an agreement this week, it would then have to go through the Eurogroup," comprised of all 19 finance ministers from eurozone countries, Mr Dijsselbloem said.

"It's not even theoretically possible this week."

Meanwhile there are fears that Greece could default, possibly setting off a chain reaction that could end with a messy exit from the eurozone.

The EU's commissioner for economic and monetary affairs Pierre Moscovici on Tuesday said there had been "serious progress" in talks over Greece's debt crisis, but much still needs to be achieved.

Providing a little more detail on the talks, Moscovici said Athens had submitted a number of proposals on overhauling the fragile pension system.

Mr Tsipras is under pressure from his party's influential radical wing to reject any reform plan that piles more austerity on the recession-hit country.

"We do not accept ultimata or succumb to blackmail," deputy prime minister Yiannis Dragasakis said in a tweet on Tuesday.

Other officials said the government would rather hold snap elections than accept a deal with more austerity.

"If the agreement is bad for the government, the people and the country it will not even be tabled in parliament... We will have to hold elections," junior social security minister Dimitris Stratoulis told Skai Radio.