Published: Tue, May 23, 2017
Markets | By Terence Owen

France to back Greek debt relief at finance ministers talks

While Le Maire said it's "important there be a solution that reassures the Greek people and of course reassures Greece's creditors", Schaeuble insisted that "structural reforms are the decisive thing" to improve Greek growth.

Dijsselbloem made clear a formal decision on whether to grant Greece more debt relief would only be taken once the bailout ends in mid-2018, repeating a Eurogroup statement from May 2016, which also spelt out what relief could be considered.

"When you look at interest rate burden. for Greece in terms of GDP it is already by far the lowest within the euro area", he said on entering the talks.

Greek finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos told the Athens News Agency that Greece "has fulfilled its obligations totally and on time".

He said he would "lead the fight" for debt relief because "there's no chance (for Greece) of returning to a stable economy and society in the eurozone with the current level of debt".

"We have to find a scenario on debt that holds for years to come and that everyone can accept, including the International Monetary Fund", an European Union diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

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If there is a debt deal, Athens has tentative plans for a return to bond markets as early as July.

The fact that the German vice chancellor - representing a party which is standing against Merkel - is demanding debt relief for Greece in the face of opposition from her own finance minister is a sign that the issue has climbed the election agenda. But Germany's Wolfgang Schaeuble is sticking to his insistence that further-reaching debt relief is a matter for the future.

Moscovici said he'll be presenting a "positive" update to finance ministers about Greece's recent efforts to meet the terms of its worldwide bailout.

While the International Monetary Fund is "more restrained" in its assumptions about Greek economic growth than Greece's European creditors, the reform package passed last week was "remarkable". Schaeuble and new French counterpart Bruno Le Maire were traveling together to Brussels on Monday for a gathering of eurozone counterparts following a meeting in Berlin. To get the money, the Greek parliament approved pension cuts and tax hikes last Thursday.

Mr. Schaeuble later described reforms agreed by Greece as "remarkable" but said the Greek economy was not yet competitive and that Athens must press ahead with implementing its existing reforms-for-aid programme. He, like Dijsselbloem, said that "extra measures if required" would come after the bailout program expires next year.

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the eurozone's top official, says a decision on the disbursement of Greece's next batch of bailout cash — around 7 billion euros ($7.7 billion) — could be secured at the meeting, while downplaying expectations that a debt relief package is imminent.

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