May 21, 2013
Greece says it has been given more time on austerity
Greece's finance minister said on Wednesday that his country had been given more time by its international lenders to implement austerity cuts, an assertion played down by leading European Union officials.
European paymaster Germany said the EU would only decide on the matter after receiving a report on Greece's progress from the 'troika' of lenders - the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund - while ECB President Mario Draghi said no final decision had been made.
But Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said the delay had already been agreed and that a package of austerity measures would be put to parliament next week - even though junior coalition partners have refused to back some of the proposals.
After months of wrangling on the 13.5-billion-euro package of spending cuts and reforms, he said the near-bankrupt country had won additional concessions from its lenders and had largely wrapped up talks on the plan.
The EU and IMF lenders, however, said some issues were still outstanding, despite progress in recent days.
A deal on the package is crucial for Greece's efforts to unlock more aid under its latest bailout, with the country just three weeks away from running out of cash.
"Today, we obtained the extension," Stournaras told parliament, referring to being given an additional two years to hit bailout targets, something Athens has been lobbying for.
"All the scenarios that we are working on with the (international lenders) are based on the assumption of an extension," he said.
An earlier report cited a draft agreement between Greece and the troika that specified Athens will have until 2016 rather than until 2014 to hit its budget deficit targets.
Speaking in Berlin, Draghi said: "The review is not yet finished. I understand progress has been made, but some parts need to be defined."
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble stressed the need for Greece to fulfil its bailout terms.
But he added: "If the troika should come to the conclusion that there are objective things that the Greeks cannot change on their own and if it makes suggestions for how to solve this, then we will consult on that in the German Bundestag (lower house of parliament) and decide on them accordingly."