Greece, creditors to kick off fiscal talks in Athens: official

[ATHENS] Greece and its international creditors were to begin fiscal talks in Athens on Thursday, with technical experts getting to grips on drawing up a new economic plan for the troubled eurozone nation.

Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said a "fact-finding mission" would gather data to assist the talks held in Brussels.

"There will be a fact-finding mission in Greece, reporting to the Brussels group, assisting the Brussels group in its deliberations," Mr Varoufakis told France24 in an interview while on a visit to Paris.

A finance ministry source had earlier told AFP that the experts would first gather fiscal data, and that discussions on structural reforms and banks would be held next week.

The breakthrough came after six weeks of difficult talks between the EU-IMF-ECB creditors and the radical Greek government that came to power in January with the promise to tear up the country's austerity-driven bailout.

The new government's aggressive stance quickly alienated Greece's creditors, who want the new government to respect the terms of the 240-billion-euro (S$354 billion) bailout signed by its predecessors.

With many promised reforms still incomplete, Athens has received no money from the remaining bailout funds, and the state is now desperate for cash.

This month alone, Greece must find some 6.0 billion euros to meet its debts - including 1.5 billion euros to the International Monetary Fund.

Mr Varoufakis insisted that Greece would be able to pay.

He said the creditors and Greece "have taken measures" and would come to an agreement to address what he called "a relatively small cashflow problem."

On Wednesday, Athens snapped up 1.3 billion euros offered by creditors in a new issue of three-month treasury bills, but at a higher interest rate of 2.7 per cent.

Reports on Wednesday said the government was also turning to its pension and agricultural assistance funds for emergency cash to pay government salaries.

On Monday, Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem blamed Greece for wasting precious time.

"We have spent two weeks discussing who meets who, where and in what format, and it's a complete waste of time," said Mr Dijsselbloem, who is also Dutch finance minister.

Athens has insisted on dismantling the previous system of EU-IMF-ECB fiscal audits, conducted by a team of experts from the three institutions known as the 'troika'.

The Greek government now calls the creditors 'institutions'.

Athens is arguing that the austerity programme that has plunged thousands of families into poverty should be relaxed, a demand opposed by Germany and other eurozone creditor nations.

In turn, Greece this week ramped up pressure on Germany to compensate victims of Nazi wartime atrocities and repay a forced war loan.

"A debt must be a debt and a debt everywhere... especially those which are weighed down by historical significance," Mr Varoufakis said in the France24 interview.

"Unless of course, we all decide that debts can be forgiven and can be restructured," he added.

Berlin argues that the issue of reparations to Greece has already been settled in 1960 as part of an agreement with several European governments.

In a new search for allies, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Thursday will meet with OECD secretary-general Angel Gurria in Paris, followed by European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and European Parliament president Martin Schulz in Brussels on Friday.


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