Greece not intending to co-operate with troika mission
Syriza-led coalition not seeking extension to February 28th deadline with euro zone lenders
Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem (L) and Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis (R) speak during a press conference following a meeting at the Finance Ministry in Athens. Photograph: Simela Pantzartzi/EPA.
The new leftwing government in Athens opened negotiations on its bailout package with European partners on Friday by flatly rejecting the expected extension of the programme and the international inspectors overseeing it.
Finance minister Yanis Varoufakis met Jeroen Dijsselbloem, head of the euro zone finance ministers‘ group, in Athens for what both described as “constructive“ discussions on the new government‘s aims.
But the hour-long meeting appeared to do nothing to bridge the gap between prime minister Alexis Tsipras‘ government and European partners who have insisted that Greece must respect its obligations under the €240 billion bailout.
The meeting with Mr Dijsselbloem was the first in a series for Mr Varoufakis, who travels to London, Paris and Rome next week as the government looks to build support.
Mr Tsipras, who makes his first foreign visit as prime minister to Cyprus on Monday, will also be in Rome on Tuesday for meetings with Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, one of the leading voices in Europe against strict budget austerity.
But he said Greece had no intention of cooperating with a mission from the “troika“ of European and International Monetary Fund lenders and would not be seeking an extension to a February 28th deadline with euro zone lenders.
“This platform enabled us to win the confidence of the Greek people,“ he told reporters after the meeting. “Our first action as a government will not be to reject the rationale of questioning this programme through a request to extend it.”
Mr Dijsselbloem said a decision on the deadline would be reached before the end of February but rejected Greece‘s push for a special conference on debt, saying a conference already existed in the form of the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers.
Mr Varoufakis gave no indication of what Greece, which must be under a EU-IMF bailout programme to ensure its banks have continued access to ECB funding, would do if it cannot reach an agreement by the deadline.
Athens is waiting on a final bailout tranche of €7.2 billion and has been shut out of international bond markets faces but faces some €10 billion in debt repayments this summer.
German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble repeated a message hammered home by Berlin since the new Greek government‘s arrival, saying German generosity had already been stretched to its limit and that it could not accept blackmail.
Mr Tsipras‘ government has taken office showing it has no intention of softening its opposition to the bailout programme, halting privatisations, reinstating hundreds of laid-off public sector workers and increasing low-income pensions.
Mr Varoufakis said he had assured Mr Dijsselbloem that Athens planned to implement reforms to make the economy more competitive and have balanced budgets but that it would not accept a “self-fed crisis“ of deflation and non-viable debt.
In turn, Mr Dijsselbloem said he had told the new government to respect the terms of the existing agreement between Greece and the euro zone and warned against taking unilateral steps, saying it was important not to reverse progress made so far.
He said euro zone partners were ready to continue supporting Greece until it can begin borrowing on the markets again “provided that Greece fully complies with the requirements and objectives of the programme“.