Greek bailout to be focus of EU finance meeting

Finance minister Tsakalotos expected to brief counterparts on milestones reached

Euro zone finance ministers gather in Brussels today for two days of meetings that will be dominated by Greece, as the eurogroup takes stock on the status of the third Greek bailout.

Greek finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos is expected to update colleagues on progress since his parliament passed a number of key "milestones" in December, including measures to liberalise the energy sector, and a new law allowing investors to buy non-performing loans.

Minister of State Simon Harris will represent Ireland at today's meeting, which will be followed by a full meeting of all 28 finance ministers tomorrow.

With bailout monitors due to return to Athens as early as next week as part of the first review under the third bailout package agreed last summer, a senior EU official played down expectations of any definitive decisions at today’s meeting. “[There will be] no huge conclusions this time,” he said.

Nonetheless, finance ministers will be updated on the state of play, including controversial new pension reforms and Greece’s progress on budget fiscal targets which have been set out as key demands by creditors.

The governor of the Bank of Greece, Yannis Stournaras, urged bailout monitors to swiftly conclude the first review – already delayed – so discussions on debt relief can start. He expressed confidence that debt relief would be considered.

"I don't see why the [European Union and International Monetary Fund] lenders won't attend the discussion for debt relief once the review is concluded. Steps have already been taken. I would be surprised if they didn't."

Greece succumbed to heavy pressure from creditors in July and signed up to a €86 billion bailout, its third since 2010.

Cyprus review

Also on the agenda at today’s eurogroup meeting is Cyprus, with the Cypriot finance minister expected to debrief colleagues on the eighth bailout review mission to the country which finished in September.

With Cyprus’s bailout programme due to expire at the end of the first quarter, EU officials are said to be happy with the country’s strong fiscal performance, although concern remains about non-performing loans in the banking sector.

Cyprus was forced into an EU-IMF bailout programme in March 2013, following the near-collapse of the banking sector. The island became the first euro-zone country to introduce capital controls in 2013, lifting the measures last April after two years of restrictions.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent