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Greece must wrap up review by year-end to start talks on bailout exit: Dijsselbloem

[ATHENS] Greece needs to conclude a crucial bailout review by the end of the year to start talks on how it will exit its current bailout programme and become financially independent, the head of the euro zone finance ministers said on Monday.

Eurogroup Chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who last visited Greece in 2015 when the country was teetering on the verge of financial collapse with its leftist-led government clashing with foreign creditors, said "Greece is now coming back on track".

"The review is now the next step. It can and should be done before the end of the year," Mr Dijsselbloem told Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos during his visit to Athens. "Opening up the talks on how to do the exit of the programme is the next step and I would agree with anyone who expresses the deep wish that Greece becomes financially independent again."

Greece signed up to a new rescue programme worth up to 86 billion euros (S$137.4 billion) in 2015, its third bailout since 2010, when its debt crisis began. The bailout expires in August next year.

Its second bailout review was concluded in June after months of tense talks over reforms and fiscal targets. Athens returned to bond markets in July with its first market foray in three years, aiming to fully restore market access by 2018.

Mr Dijsselbloem urged all sides - Athens, the Eurogroup, European Union institutions and the International Monetary Fund - to work hard together to ensure that Greece is fully prepared to exit its bailout.

"The end of the programme is the beginning of a new phase and we should do whatever we can, from the Greek side and from the Eurogroup side and all the institutions, to make sure that Greece is fully prepared for financial independence," he said.

He told Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that he agreed with the government's view that the bailout exit should be "clean", without new financial support and attached conditions.

"I think we agree on that, it should be a clean exit," he said, adding that during the rest of his term as Eurogroup chairman until January 2018, he would support Greek efforts.

"In the months that I have, make no mistake that I will be fully committed," he said.

Mr Dijsselbloem was expected to meet Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos later in the day.


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