Greek debt talks stumble before EU leaders gather

BRUSSELS, (Reuters) – Negotiations to avert a Greek debt default stumbled yesterday and euro zone finance ministers accused Athens of refusing to compromise despite a deadline next week that could put it on a path out of the euro zone.

With European Union leaders due in Brussels for a summit on Thursday, leftist Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras negotiated into the early hours with heads of creditor institutions to try to thrash out a cash-for-reform deal before the euro zone ministers reconvene at 1 p.m. (1100 GMT).

“The Greek government remains firm on its positions,” an official in Tsipras’s administration said after the premier left the late-night talks. Negotiators would resume discussions at 6 a.m. and Tsipras was to meet creditors again at 9 a.m.

Greece has to repay 1.6 billion euros to the International Monetary Fund next Tuesday or be declared in default, potentially unleashing a bank run and capital controls, followed by a slide out of the single currency area.

Eurogroup ministers cut short an emergency meeting summoned to approve an agreement after little more than an hour because there was no deal ready for them to discuss.

“Unfortunately we have not reached an agreement yet, but we are determined to continue work, this work will go on during the night if necessary,” Eurogroup chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem told reporters.


Ministers voiced exasperation at being summoned to Brussels again only to be kept waiting while Athens, the weakest link in the 19-nation currency area, resisted measures regarded by its lenders as essential to balance its public finances and make its economy more competitive.

Slovak Finance Minister Peter Kazimir brandished a book as he arrived for the meeting, saying that at least he had brought something to read while they waited.

“We are prepared to work all night, but we had nothing real to work with,” another euro zone official said. “The loss of trust is becoming extreme. It is hard to see how we can go on.”

Tsipras had spent the whole afternoon with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, IMF head Christine Lagarde, European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi and Dijsselbloem without achieving a breakthrough.

By the time the 19 Eurogroup ministers gathered, the negotiators had been unable to produce a draft text due to wide differences over pension reform, taxation, labour law, public sector wages, the opening of closed professions, and investment.

“We have not been able to throw anything back at anyone because there’s nothing on the table,” Finnish Finance Minister Alexander Stubb told reporters.


Officials said the talks could drag on for another two days but without a deal by Saturday, endorsed by Greek lawmakers and a vote in the German parliament on Monday, Greece may not get the cash to meet Tuesday’s repayment deadline. Its EU/IMF bailout expires the same day.

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