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Christina Vasilaki: Consultations with technocrats begin amidst financial suffocation and political conflicts

Under suffocating time pressure, given that the borrowing needs of the public sector for March have pushed cash reserves to their limits, a decision was reached in the Eurogroup of Monday to initiate technical discussions between the Greek authorities and the creditors’ representatives on Wednesday. As agreed upon by the two parties, consultations shall take place in Brussels, while enabling the technical teams to access all information and data available in Athens. The aim of the technical consultations is to particularise and enrich the proposals of the Greek government so far, in order for them to be implemented the soonest possible while at the same time clarifying the exact budgetary and financing shortfalls. Thus, Brussels has deemed necessary that technical teams are present in Athens.

According to the Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, the meeting has been “an important step towards the successful implementation of the decision of 20 February”, while referring -shortly after the end of the meeting- to the implementation of the reforms on the one hand, and to the safeguarding of financial liquidity on the other. He explained that the seven reform proposals submitted by his government were only the beginning, with additional “sets” of proposals bound to be filed in the coming weeks. On the other hand, the assessment will take place on the basis of selected proposals thereof, along with planning for the budget and in cooperation with the institutions.

As is evident by the statements of the Greek finance minister, Athens takes the view that, along with the technical assessment of the Greek proposals, the procedure for solving the problems of the financing gap shall also be initiated, as “guaranteed by all the institutions”. Nevertheless, the Eurogroup president, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, was quick to point out that further leveraging of funds is conditional on fulfilling two prerequisites: firstly, to reach an agreement on a technical level regarding the entire programme, i.e. all reforms envisaged, and secondly to have started implementing these reforms, albeit partially. In fact, he said that he is open to considering the possibility of a partial payment of the installment as long as the steps mentioned above are made in that order, but not the other way round.

Nearly all of the Eurozone finance ministers and participating officials stressed the need for technical processing of the Greek proposals by the representatives of the institutions, as well as for an immediate implementation of the reforms. Commissioner for Economic Affairs, Pierre Moscovici, noted that no detailed discussion on the proposals was held, while pointing out that “this is a technical procedure for which the institutions are responsible” and stressing the importance of proceeding with the reforms, at both the parliamentary and administrative levels.

“Time is running out”

The head of the Eurogroup sent a rigorous message concerning the time wasted on “discussing who shall meet whom and where”. After the meeting, J. Dijsselbloem said that “today, we agreed on a process which should have already been started”.

“The discussions… must and will start as from Wednesday”, he said on Monday, while warning, on the following day and amid various scenarios about complications in the negotiation, that “if we do not start tomorrow, every sense of credibility and seriousness” will be lost in both Athens and Brussels. “This implies that the airplanes will depart tomorrow”, he told reporters on the sidelines of the Ecofin Council, referring to a discussion they held with the Greek finance minister himself.

For his part, the Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, disputed the view that time was lost and pointed out that a new list of proposals will be made available soon. However, the “conflict” concerning the issue of “time” was not the only one between the two sides. The German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, soon joined the discussion saying that “it is only Mr. Varoufakis who claims that no time has been lost. We all agreed that nothing has been done”. In addition, W. Schäuble harshly criticized Mr. Varoufakis on a personal level after the end of the Ecofin. He spoke of “naïve communication” by his Greek counterpart, who purportedly conveys the “wrong impression” whenever he speaks.

According to sources, what actually annoyed the German finance minister was the fact that, based on the first draft legislative proposals of the Greek government (relating to the response to the humanitarian crisis and the regulation of overdue debts), “unilateral actions” were evident, which was also underscored by Jeroen Dijsselbloem. “We also underlined the commitments of no unilateral actions and no rolling-back on measures previously agreed”, he said emphatically in his speech.

Lastly, the Eurogroup president did not wish to comment on a question relating to the stance of the European Central Bank, as far as the cap on government bonds to be issued by Greece is concerned. “This is a decision of the ECB”, he clarified, thus contradicting the expectations of the Greek side for easing the Central Bank’s stance -via political intervention- and providing a way out of the country’s financial suffocation.