Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said the government is nearing an agreement with international creditors over fresh disbursements of aid while reiterating opposition to further wage or pension cuts.
“Views are converging,” Stournaras told reporters today in Brussels after a meeting of euro-area 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.”
Locked in talks with the euro area and International Monetary Fund on Greece’s eligibility for further payouts of emergency funds, the Greek government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is resisting any extra fiscal tightening as the economy contracts for a sixth year. Since early 2010, Greece has received two rescues totaling 240 billion euros ($323 billion) in return for bringing public spending under control.
The international creditors have said Greece’s 2014 budget hole may be around 2 billion euros, while Athens has asserted the fiscal gap is no more than a quarter of that sum. Euro-area and IMF inspectors are due to return to the Greek capital on Nov. 15 for the next round of negotiations.
“It’s important the review is finalized as quickly as possible,” Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who chairs the group of euro-area finance chiefs, told reporters after today’s gathering. “There’s political urgency, urgency of commitment.”
The Greek ruling coalition of Samaras’s New Democracy party and the Socialist Pasok this week survived a vote of no confidence brought by the main opposition Syriza, which opposes the austerity conditions for aid. Pasok expelled a lawmaker who voted for the motion, reducing the government’s majority in parliament to four seats.
In addition to trying to keep aid flowing under the second rescue program, Samaras is seeking a third package of support in 2014. His government predicts that it will post a budget surplus excluding interest payments in 2013, a year ahead of schedule. The country’s budget deficit in 2009, when Greece triggered the euro-area debt crisis, was five times the European Union limit.
The fiscal position is significant because euro-area finance ministers agreed a year ago to “consider further measures and assistance” once Greece achieves the surplus before interest costs -- known as a primary surplus.
At today’s Brussels meeting, representatives of the European Commission and the European Central Bank pressed Greece to speed up the delivery of data needed for the current review of the aid program, according to a participant who declined to be identified. The commission, which is the EU’s executive arm, and the ECB represent Greece’s creditors along with the IMF.
In addition to the current review, the Greek government is still seeking to fulfill the conditions to unlock the final 1 billion euros from a 5 billion-euro payout approved in principle by the euro area in July.
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