BELGIUM-EU-SUMMIT
(Clockwise from L) European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, European Council President Donald Tusk, Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union, Uwe Corsepius, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Eurogroup chairman and Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem.  Photograph by Emmanuel Dunand — AFP/Getty Images

More promises, more skepticism as Europe talks around Greek problem

Mar 20, 2015

It's a tired old playbook, but one that neither Greece nor its creditors has found an alternative to yet.

Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras promised late Thursday to submit a more concrete list of reforms to the country's creditors in the Eurozone that will allow them to unlock the remaining billions in its bailout agreement and stave off bankruptcy, while the creditors repeated with increasingly strained patience their willingness to support the country, but only on their terms.

Tsipras' comments came after after an informal 'break-out' meeting with Germany's Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and other senior senior European officials on the sidelines of a two-day meeting of E.U. leaders, and lasted longer than the official sessions of talks.

The meeting represented an escalation of the Greek crisis in recent days, with Tsipras trying to go over the heads of the Eurogroup, the college of Eurozone finance ministers, and the technocrats implementing the bailout deal, in order to win a political agreement on easing the bailout's conditions.

However, the mini-summit yielded no such progress. Reuters quoted Merkel as saying after the meeting that "we have not changed one iota. You may have heard some of this before, but then not much has happened in the last few weeks."

"Based on how the conversation went, I hope that this list of reforms will indeed come," Merkel said, barely trying to hide a skepticism about the new government's commitment to reform that is widespread in Berlin. The mass-circulation Bild-Zeitung reported Friday that Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble now expects Greece to leave the Eurozone (but didn't have any confirmed quotes to back its claim up).

Last month, the Eurogroup agreed to keep the bailout plan alive until the end of June while Greece drew up alternative measures that would ease the social crisis in the country without rolling back the reforms that have been implemented so far, or endangering the stability of its budget.

However, the initial list of reforms proposed by Athens was badly received in Brussels, and the government only yesterday pushed a new "antipoverty" bill through parliament that will include a program for food and electricity stamps which hasn't yet been fully funded. The creditors complain that they weren't consulted ahead of the bill, something that Athens committed to do in the February agreement.

But Tsipras insisted that "It's clear that Greece is not obliged to implement recessionary measures. Greece will submit its own structural reforms, which it will implement."

Markets took a modest degree of comfort from the inconclusive meeting, relieved at the fact that nothing worse had happened. But Greece is still firmly locked out of capital markets: the yield on its five-year bonds is still over 17.5%.

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