Even before talks were due to resume on Feb. 24 with envoys from international lenders, Greece’s coalition government said it was confident of reaching a deal in talks that have sputtered for almost six months.
Representatives from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) haven’t been able to find a consensus with the administration of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative leader and his partner, the PASOK Socialists.
Still unsettled are some 153 reforms pushed aside for several years as Greece has been getting $325 billion in two bailouts, and the big question of how close a hole in the budget the government says is one billion euros but which the Troika has put at as high as 2.4 billion euros.
Greece is “very close” to an agreement with the Troika, according to government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou, who was speaking ahead of the resumption of talks between the two sides. Since they hadn’t started, he didn’t say what that was based on.
Greece, which holds the symbolic European Union Presidency until June 30, but so far has done almost nothing with it, wants to reach an an agreement in principle by the March 10 Eurogroup and to secure the disbursement of 8.8 billion euros in bailout loans by a meeting of Eurozone finance ministers due to be held in Athens on April 1.
Among the issues that remain to be settled are the lifting of barriers to competition in several sectors and the reduction of employers’ social security contributions by 3.9 percentage points. “We are very close to an agreement on both things,” Kedikoglou told Mega TV.
He didn’t mention the other 151 unsettled items apart from that the government was ready to make alternative proposals on the issues of fresh milk and non-prescriptions medicines. The Troika wants Greece to extend the shelf life of fresh milk and allow some drugs to be sold in super markets. Pharmacists said they want to keep a monopoly on drug sales, even for items such as aspirin.
Kedikoglou wouldn’t discuss how big Greece’s 2013 primary surplus would be although Samaras predicted it will be as high as 1.5 billion euros and the trigger to seeking debt relief from the Troika.
“We will see how big it will be,” said Kedikoglou. “I am sure that it will exceed most people’s expectations.”