[ATHENS] Greece's government is confident of striking a compromise with its European partners in the coming days, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Monday, in a bid to quell growing concern over the country's future in the euro zone.
Speaking in Vienna after talks with Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, Mr Tsipras renewed his appeal for a "bridge"agreement with partners from the end of February to June to tide Athens over until it can replace its current bailout programme.
Greece faces uncertainty over its ability to fund itself after its EU/IMF bailout expires on Feb 28. It rejects the extension of a programme it says is "cruel" but European partners have refused to accept Athens' plans to abandon reforms promised under the programme.
The wildly different outlook between Athens and the rest of Europe on the way forward triggered another selloff in Greek stocks and bonds on Monday amid growing speculation that Greece is once again flirting with the possibility of a euro zone exit. "I am confident there will be a deal with our partners on the basis of our plan," Tsipras said. "We haven't yet heard any specific and viable alternative proposal." Pledging Greece's plan would not cost European taxpayers, Mr Tsipras said he did not want a clash with lenders. "I don't believe there is any serious reason for a deal not to exist between Greece and its partners - only political reasons," he said.
Meanwhile, in Athens, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis in an address to parliament continued the sharp rhetoric against the bailout that has spooked investors, this time calling its impact "toxic". "Unfortunately, the so-called medicine is a toxic one," the flamboyant finance minister said. "And the worst thing of all is that the doctor is aware of that".
But he also pledged not to derail progress in bringing Greece's finances back on track, saying Athens intended to maintain its primary budget surplus for this year at the 1.5 percent of GDP level it hit last year. Under the bailout, Greece was required to post a surplus of 3 per cent this year. "We won't make any move that will derail the budget, no move that will reduce the primary budget surplus of 2015 from the level it closed at of around 1.5 per cent," Mr Varoufakis said.
He also promised to implement "deep reforms", including 70 per cent of those outlined under the bailout. The remaining 30 per cent were unacceptable and hence axed, he said.