Friday, 07 May 2021 06:54 GMT

Greece heads for bailout showdown with EU

(MENAFN - AFP) Greece's new government was headed for a showdown with sceptical European partners on Wednesday as it took its demands to renegotiate its huge bailout to crunch talks in Brussels.

The emergency meeting of eurozone finance ministers promises to be bruising, with Greek demands for a cash lifeline and a relaxation of austerity facing resistance from Germany in particular.

Markets worldwide are spooked by the renewed threat of Greece crashing out of the euro, with Greece's massive EU-IMF bailout set to expire at the end of February, leaving it at the risk of a default.

Greek debt prices jumped higher and the Athens stock market plummeted three percent hours before the talks as the two sides seemed far apart.

"I want to repeat today, no matter how much (German Finance Minister Wolfgang) Schaeuble asks it, we are not going to ask to extend the bailout," left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told lawmakers in Athens late Tuesday.

The new government is riding a wave of popularity in Greece, emboldened by the 40-year-old premier's defiance of Germany and austerity, which he has tempered with pledges to keep Greece in the eurozone.

"This is the first government that goes to the Eurogroup (of eurozone finance ministers) standing up, not bowed," said Greece's new Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis.

- OECD meeting -

The Brussels talks, set to begin at 1630 GMT, will see Greece plead its case to the eurozone's 18 other members, most of whom are loath to give Athens leeway on its mountain of debt, which most analysts believe will never be repaid.

Varoufakis will ask his counterparts to forget the current 240 billion euro ($270 billion) bailout, in favour of a new arrangement that would take the plight of ordinary Greeks into account.

The Greek proposal would see Athens stick to 70 percent of its bailout commitments but overhaul the remaining 30 percent. Greece also wants a debt swap that will focus on economic growth.

Crucially, the government wants a bridging loan until September to buy time to hammer out new reforms.

At the same time it insists on raising the minimum wage and ditching an unpopular property tax, abandoning key reforms demanded by lenders of previous Greek governments.

Tsipras announced plans on Wednesday to work on his programme of reforms with the OECD -- the economic club of rich nations that has criticised the EU's embrace of austerity.

The programme will be based "not on what was previously decided but on popular mandate," he told a news conference after meeting Angel Gurria, head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Greece was first bailed out in 2010 and Athens is still subject to inspections by its troika of creditors -- the European Commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank.

- 'It's over' -

On the eve of the talks, which will also include the head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, and ECB chief Mario Draghi, Germany's Schaeuble dismissed any proposal of ending the current programme.

"It's over" if Greece doesn't want to continue the aid programme on the current terms, Germany's Schaeuble said.

The EU's Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said the existing bailout deal was "the anchor" on which discussions should be held.

Moscovici added that while the Greek people's desire for change should not be "brushed aside" Athens should also be mindful of voters in other European countries suffering from rescue fatigue.

Greece on Wednesday raised 1.14 billion euros in three-month bonds, but rates were up and demand was down for the second time in a row for the new government.

Despite European leaders seeming to be at loggerheads, analysts said investors were still confident a deal will be reached.

"The markets don't see a Greek exit as highly likely and certainly don't think there's a really negative outcome looming," Mark Lister, head of private wealth research at Craigs Investment Partners Ltd, told Bloomberg News.

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