Greek PM 'certain' euro zone will back loan, Merkel demands more

Greek PM
# 21 February 2015 01:40 (UTC +04:00)

Baku-APA. Greece's leftist prime minister said on Friday he was certain euro zone finance ministers would accept his government's request for an extended loan deal, but Germany demanded "significant improvements" in reform commitments.

After long preliminary talks among Greek, euro zone and IMF officials in Brussels, the chairman of the 19-nation Eurogroup Jeroen Dijsselbloem said there was "reason for some optimism" but the search for agreement remained very difficult.

With Greece's EU/IMF bailout program due to expire in little more than a week, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras voiced confidence of an agreement despite the objections to the request made in a letter to Dijsselbloem.

"I feel certain that the Greek letter for a six-month extension of the loan agreement with the conditionalities that accompany it will be accepted," Tsipras said in a statement to Reuters hours before the meeting.

A Greek official said Tsipras had asked European Council President Donald Tusk to convene an emergency European Union summit on Sunday if the ministers failed to reach an agreement.

A report by German magazine Der Spiegel that the European Central Bank was making contingency plans for a possible Greek exit from the currency area if the talks fail, on which the ECB declined comment, highlighted the high stakes.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking after talks in Paris, said all EU partners wanted to keep Greece in the euro but added: "There is a need for significant improvements in the substance of what is being discussed so that we can vote on it in the German Bundestag, for example next week."

The Greeks won qualified backing from Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. "I believe that the principle of doing reforms in exchange for more time is just and correct," he said after a meeting of his government in Rome.

REASON FOR SOME OPTIMISM

Finance ministers arriving from other euro zone states lined up to insist on more guarantees for creditors that Greece will fulfill the bailout's strict conditions on budget discipline and economic reforms to win their agreement.

Athens is determined to loosen austerity to revive its economy but Dijsselbloem kept open the possibility that the differences could be bridged.

"There is still reason for some optimism, but it is still very difficult," he said after the preparatory meetings with Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde.

Tsipras had a long telephone call with Merkel on Thursday and has spoken repeatedly to the leaders of France and Italy in the search for a solution that allows his radical government to fulfill election promises and hold its head high.

"Greece has done everything possible so that we can arrive at a mutually beneficial solution, based on the principle of double respect: respect both to the principle of EU rules and to the electoral result of member states," he said.

Varoufakis said on arrival for the Brussels talks that Athens had gone "not just the extra mile but the extra 10 miles" and it was up to its partners go the rest of the way.

French President Francois Hollande, who promised Tsipras he would work on Merkel to find a solution, insisted there was no scenario envisaging a Greek exit from the single currency.

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