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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Government Officials Play Down Expectations Ahead of Paris Talks

Government officials are traveling to Paris today, to hold talks with Greece’s international creditors that will last until Thursday. Following a meeting with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos, Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis told reporters that expectations had risen too high and Greece would focus on “technical” matters. Greece’s ‘interlocutors’ in Paris will be “executives of the Troika and as such, they can only talk about the memorandum,” Hardouvelis said. “They can’t talk politics.” The Minister did not confirm reports that Athens would ask the creditors to lower certain taxes, such as a consumption tax on heating fuel. “That’s not on the agenda,” he said. “If they raise the issue, we’ll have answers.” Greece hopes to ease concerns it is slipping up on reforms during talks with European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) inspectors in Paris this week, with debt relief talks unlikely to start until October, a senior Greek government official told Reuters. The EU/IMF lenders bailing out Greece will begin their latest review of the country’s progress on its obligations this month, but in a break from the past, the initial phase of talks starting today is being held in the French capital instead of Athens. That has prompted speculation that the talks could yield a broad-based agreement on major issues including further debt relief and additional funding needs for Greece as the twice-bailed out nation emerges from a six-year recession. However, the senior official cautioned that the decision to meet outside Athens was mainly to avoid a lengthy inspection similar to last year’s fall review that dragged on for seven months and that the talks would focus on reforms achieved to date. “It will be a preliminary discussion on the state of play,” the official told Reuters. “We want to show that reforms are on target, soothe those who worry that reforms are not carried out.” Sources indicated that the government decided to scale down hopes for a tax relief to avert a huge disappointment if they fail to ensure that the message being sent out by the Greek side is not totally in the opposite direction with that of Troika representatives, who want to see the government implementing economic reforms. The Greek delegation, led by Hardouvelis, has three main points in its negotiation strategy: to cut a list of some 600 outstanding measures – mostly technical adjustments – that Athens has pledged to the Troika; to convince the IMF to approve the release of the next 3.5-billion-euro tranche of loan funding without first awaiting the outcome of the European Central Bank (ECB) stress tests on banks which are due in the fall; and to convince the Troika that Greece will have no fiscal gap next year and that its budget will also allow for a tax relief. The agenda for the Paris talks also includes the thorny issue of “red” loans at Greek banks, proposing lighter terms for borrowers, as well as try to tackle the other issue the Troika insists on, namely that of further layoffs in the public sector.