En­voys go with­out deal

As bailout agree­ment looks dis­tant, Merkel slams Greece over refugee re­sponse

Kathimerini English - - Front Page -

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Greece’s in­ter­na­tional cred­i­tors were ex­pected to leave the cap­i­tal to­day with­out hav­ing reached an agree­ment with govern­ment of­fi­cials on con­tentious is­sues in­clud­ing pen­sion re­form and over­hauls to la­bor rights and the tax sys­tem.

De­spite the in­sis­tence by Euro­pean of­fi­cials that a con­clu­sion of the bailout re­view is un­likely be­fore May, the Greek govern­ment in­di­cated that there is enough time for a com­pre­hen­sive deal to be reached sooner than that though prob­a­bly not by a March 20 Eurogroup.

Govern­ment spokesman Dim­itris Tzanakopou­los spoke of con­ver­gence be­tween the two sides as re­gards “pos­i­tive mea­sures” – re­fer­ring to a raft of so-called coun­ter­mea­sures in­clud­ing re­duc­tions to value-added tax rates and prop­erty levies – though he was vague about the progress on con­tro­ver­sial aus­ter­ity mea­sures that form the main body of the dis­cus­sion, namely cuts to pen­sions and the low­er­ing of the tax-free thresh­old.

Sources in­di­cated late last night that the key stick­ing point is la­bor re­forms, with Greek of­fi­cials said to be re­luc­tant to yield to cred­i­tors’ de­mands for more flex­i­bil­ity in the pri­vate la­bor mar­ket.

Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras, who was in Brus­sels yes­ter­day for a Euro­pean Union lead­ers’ sum­mit, has sought to shift to a pos­i­tive nar­ra­tive over the past week, herald­ing a growth fund for busi­nesses in north­ern Greece and the launch of a pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion for a re­view of the Con­sti­tu­tion.

Tsipras was not ex­pected to reach out to his Euro­pean peers for a po­lit­i­cal agree­ment to break the dead­lock in bailout ne­go­ti­a­tions as he has done in the past. In fact it ap­pears that key EU lead­ers are frus­trated with Greece for sev­eral rea­sons, in­clud­ing what they re­gard as its fail­ure to ad­e­quately tackle the bloc’s refugee cri­sis. Speak­ing in Brus­sels yes­ter­day, Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel de­scribed the sit­u­a­tion on the Aegean is­lands, where thou­sands of mi­grants re­main cooped up in over­crowded re­cep­tion cen­ters, as “not at all sat­is­fac­tory.” “The agree­ment be­tween the EU and Turkey is still not be­ing im­ple­mented by the Greek side as it should be,” Merkel said, re­fer­ring to a deal signed be­tween Brus­sels and Ankara this time last year to curb hu­man smug­gling across the Aegean.

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