Bailout inspectors back in Greece amid growing anger over austerity reforms

ATHENS, Greece – Inspectors from Greece’s bailout creditors have restarted talks on spending reforms that the government is resisting, with Greek officials ruling out any further blanket wage and pension cuts, and accusing the negotiators of adopting a “punitive approach.”

The officials from the “troika” of the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund will, start high-level meetings Tuesday. The sides are at odds over the size of a 2014 budget gap and whether a plan to cover it will require more austerity measures.

EU Commission spokesman Simon O’Connor said the troika’s schedule was finalized after Greece sent 2014 budget data to the EU late Friday.

“This was information largely related to fiscal issues, to the closure of the fiscal gap for 2014, but also to other elements of the (bailout) program conditionality,” he told reporters in Brussels.

Greek officials insist no additional austerity measures can be implemented, arguing they would be unproductive in an economy that is contracting for a sixth year and with unemployment near 28 per cent.

Unions are planning a general strike Wednesday, with ferries to halt for 24 hours and flights grounded for three hours on that day.

Conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras late Monday said Greece was fulfilling its bailout commitments and would cover budget gaps without new blanket pay cuts for wage earners and pensioners.

“There will be no budgetary gap, in our view, and the numbers will bear this out,” Samaras told private Mega television.

Development Minister Costis Hadzidakis said eurozone nations needed to express their solidarity toward Greece instead of exerting more pressure.

“This constant sense of doubt is very negative for the economy and a punitive approach never helps the situation. What we need now is for our European partners to explicitly express their trust in Greece’s prospects,” Hadzidakis told a business conference.

Greece has survived on international rescue loans after dismal financial stewardship and loss of investor confidence brought it near bankruptcy in 2010. It has pushed through drastic spending cuts and tax hikes in return for a total of 240 billion euros ($324 billion) in financial aid.

After a month-long suspension, talks with creditors are aimed at resolving differences so Athens receives the next 1 billion-euro ($1.35 billion) loan installment.


AP writers Nicholas Paphitis in Athens and Juergen Baetz in Brussels contributed.