Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said the country’s international lenders are on the verge of giving up demands for more austerity measures in return for continued aid and will come through with the money anyway, including a pending one billion euro ($1.37 billion) installment that had been held up while the two sides negotiated how to close a looming gap of as much as 2.9 billion euros in the 2014 budget.
“Views are converging,” Stournaras told reporters in Brussels after a meeting of Eurozone finance ministers. “We differ on some matters. Whatever hole there is in the budget will be filled with measures of a structural nature that have budget benefits. I am confident,” he said.
That was a sharp contradiction to an earlier report that envoys from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) believed they were “miles apart, billions apart,” on reaching agreement.
Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is anxious to avoid breaking his promise not to impose any more pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions which could be necessary unless the country, locked in a deep recession, can find ways to raise enough revenues to fill the gap which the government puts at only 500 million euros.
Since early 2010, Greece has been receiving two rescues totaling 240 billion euros ($323 billion) in return for bringing public spending under control.
“It’s important the review is finalized as quickly as possible,” Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, also the Eurozone chief told reporters after the meeting in Brussels. “There’s political urgency, urgency of commitment,” he added.
Samaras’ coalition government, made up of his New Democracy Conservatives and his partner the PASOK Socialists, easily survived a no-confidence vote brought by the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) party which was left in some disarray by the defeat with infighting against its leader, Alexis Tsipras.
But PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos, who gave up his opposition to the firing of public workers and was rewarded with the titles of Deputy Prime Minister/Foreign Minister, booted out one of his members for backing the Leftists on the vote, cutting the government’s majority in the 300-seat Parliament to only four seats.
Greece said it would to speed up structural reforms and continue fiscal consolidation and privatization to unblock more of the international loans that keep it afloat, a frequent promise it has always broken.
Still, Dijsselbloem said, “A lot of progress has been made, also at social and political costs for the Greek society, and I think we fully acknowledge that. Yet the only way forward to strengthen economic perspectives, to strengthen competitiveness, is to follow up on what we agreed, on the commitments that we made to each other.”
Troika envoys have been in Athens this month to check the books and the pace of reforms but made virtually no progress in the tough talks. A senior Eurozone official said earlier in the week that the only deadline for Greece would be the date the country runs out of cash to pay back creditors and keep the state functioning.