Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Greece PM Tsipras 'optimistic' after ECB and EU talks

Jean-Claude Juncker (right) walks hand in hand with Alexis Tsipras as the Greek PM arrives at the European Commission
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Greece's new prime minister says he believes it will be possible to find a solution to the stand-off with the EU over his country's debt.

Alexis Tsipras said he was "optimistic" after meeting the heads of the European Commission, European Council and European Parliament in Brussels.

He and his finance minister are on a diplomatic offensive to reassure eurozone leaders about their plans.

Mr Tsipras has pledged to renegotiate the terms of a €240bn (£182bn) bailout.

His far-left party Syriza was elected last month on a promise to end austerity measures.

'Good direction'
"We respect the rules of the European Union," Mr Tsipras said after his meetings on Wednesday.

"I'm very optimistic... Of course we don't have already an agreement but we are in a good direction to find a viable agreement."

Speaking at the joint news conference, European Parliament President Martin Schulz described their talks as "fruitful" but said there were difficult times ahead.

Yanis Varoufakis (right), met European Central Bank President Mario Draghi in Frankfurt
Meanwhile, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said his talks with ECB chief Mario Draghi in Frankfurt had also been encouraging.

"We had a very fruitful discussion and exchange," Mr Varoufakis told reporters.

He is keen to convince the ECB that Greece's debt payments could be linked to the performance of the economy - the more it grows the more interest Greece would pay - through the use of debt swaps.

However, a report in the Financial Times quoted officials involved in the negotiations as saying that the ECB would oppose a crucial part of his plan - the sale of short-term treasury bills to raise €10bn.

Wednesday's talks were the latest in a series of European trips to reassure leaders about the plans of a government elected on 25 January on a promise of writing off most of Greece's spiralling debt.

Mr Tsipras's Syriza party had also sparked alarm on the markets and among eurozone officials when it said it would refuse a new tranche of bailout funding, prompting questions about how it would finance itself.

Unrelated to Mr Tsipras's visit, a blow-up Trojan horse appeared at the European Commission as part of protests against a major free trade deal being discussed by the EU and US
Greece's current programme of loans ends on 28 February. A final €7.2bn is still to be negotiated, but the new government has already begun to roll back austerity measures.

Mr Varoufakis is hoping to obtain quick cash for Greece while a new plan is agreed amongst the various eurozone members.

Eurozone finance ministers are due to meet on 11 February to discuss Greece's debt proposals.

Mark Lowen reports from Athens on a busy first week in office for Greece's new leader.
'There are rules'
Earlier, the Greek prime minister met European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk.

Mr Juncker was expected to press Mr Tsipras for a "technical" extension of Greece's current deal. The Greek leader is to travel to Paris to meet President Francois Hollande later.

On Thursday Mr Varoufakis is expected to meet Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German finance minister. Mr Schaeuble has emerged as the one of the toughest critics of the new Greek government, previously saying: "Elections change nothing. There are rules."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has ruled out debt cancellation, saying creditors had already made concessions.

Greece still has a debt of €315bn - about 175% of GDP - despite some creditors writing down debts in a renegotiation in 2012.

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