Advertisement
VICE News

Deadline Looms As Greece Haggles with Euro-Creditors Over Bailout Terms

"We have spent the last two weeks discussing who will meet who, where, and in what configuration," said Jeroen Dijsselbloem, leader of the Eurozone finance ministers. "There is no further time to lose."

by Nikolia Apostolou
Mar 10 2015, 1:45am

AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert

The newly elected Greek government and its international creditors are preparing for a turbulent period of negotiations starting in Brussels Wednesday, when technical groups will scrutinize the terms of the $270 billion bailout plan Greece has been receiving in installments since 2010.

The 18 finance ministers in the Eurozone countries agreed last month to extend financial assistance to Greece by up to four months beyond its original expiration date at the end of February.

The Greek economy has been in recession since the country's debt crisis erupted in 2008.  Greek debt currently stands at $366 billion, more than 175 percent of the country's gross domestic product, according to CNN

In 2010, in order to avoid a Greek default on its debt and a departure from the European monetary union, the Eurozone, Germany and the rest of the union agreed to set up a system to bail-out Greece. In return, the Greek government at the time agreed to austerity measures that included reforming its labor laws, cutting public spending and selling public assets. So far, what is known as the Troika - made up of the Eurozone countries, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank - have set up the bailout program for Greece. But more than a million Greeks lost their jobs, and the country's unemployment rate continues to hover near 30 percent.  One out of every three Greeks currently lives under the poverty line. 

The left-wing party now in power, Syriza, won office with promises to roll back the austerity policies of the previous government, despite the danger of default. 

Related: A Wind of Change in Europe? Greece Takes Anti-Austerity Fight to Brussels, but Deal Remains Elusive

The first measure by the Syriza government since being elected in January was to increase support for the working poor. But if budgets get off course, creditors are likely to refuse to continue financial assistance.

A possible agreement between Greece and the Eurozone in April could release the next round of installments that Greece needs to repay its debtors. Some observers argue that requiring Greece to pay off the entirety of the loans could result in negative economic and political repercussions, including the possibility that Greece would leave the Eurozone. 

Greece's Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera over the weekend that he and other members of his government are not "attached to our posts." 

"If needed, if we encounter implacability, we will resort to the Greek people either through elections or a referendum," he said in what some read as a veiled threat to leave the Eurozone.   

Even though investors were spooked, Monday's Eurogroup meeting lacked the drama of February's meetings.

During the half hour the Greek issue was discussed, the Eurozone finance ministers agreed that the technical teams needed to urgently look at Greece's fiscal health.

"It's been a complete waste of time," said Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Dutch Minister of Finance and leader of the Eurozone finance ministers, in the press conference after the Eurogroup meeting. "We have spent the last two weeks discussing who will meet who, where, and in what configuration. There is no further time to lose." 

Related: In Photos: Four Years of Greece's Great Depression

Dijsselbloem has said that technical teams will also travel to Athens, a sensitive issue for the Greek government, as Greek officials have repeatedly promised voters they won't talk to the Troika, because previous Greek ministers have been accused of being yes-men to the commands of the Troika's middle-ranking European officers.

Time is ticking away though, say many EU officials, as the Greek government tries to juggle its pre-election pledges along with the demands of its creditors.  Meanwhile, the government has met only one of the four initial commitments to the Troika. 

"New measures could be put in, others could be put out, that's the first thing that has to happen," said Dijsselbloem. "There has to be an agreement on what we are going to do and what we expect the Greek government to deliver in these four months."

Last week, Greek Finance Minister Varoufakis, in an email to Dutch Finance Minister Dijsselbloem, proposed seven new measures he said Greece is willing to adopt. Dijsselbloem said that these measures represented just the beginning of what Greece needed to do. Among the seven measures was a plan to hire undercover citizens and tourists with recording kits to check whether Greek firms and shops are dodging sales tax, or VAT. 

Other measures include offering more payment plan options to those who owe taxes to the state, tendering new licenses for online gambling sites, and creating reforms aimed at reducing bureaucracy.

If an agreement is reached in April, it will release more than $7 billion from Greece's $270 billion bailout program, money European officials are currently holding onto at least until the review.

In the meantime, Greece needs to find $7.7 billion euros to pay back its creditors for March alone. 

Related: Greeks Protest Against Austerity as Leaders Try to Negotiate With Creditors in Brussels

Follow Nikolia Apostolou on Twitter: @NikoliaA