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EU Commission chief urges Greece to advance more quickly on reform plans

BRUSSELS – The head of the European Union’s executive says talks between Greece and its European creditors over the country’s reform plans are taking too long.

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Friday that he was “not satisfied” with developments over recent weeks, as he went into talks in Brussels with visiting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

“I don’t think that we’ve made sufficient progress,” Juncker said.

Greece’s creditors in the 19-country eurozone agreed last month to extend the country’s bailout program by four months on condition that the government’s reform package is deemed acceptable.

Greece has depended on 240 billion euros ($255 billion) of bailout cash to meet its debt obligations since 2010 and avoid going bankrupt.

However, the rescue money has come with strings attached. Successive Greek governments have had to impose harsh austerity measures and enact economic reforms to get the money.

Juncker said he would “make a certain number of proposals to my friend Alexis and then I will see what will happen, but I am totally excluding a failure.”

His remarks came two days after technical talks started between debt supervisors and Greece aimed at fleshing out the reforms in more detail and establishing whether the whole package is even viable.

Athens must implement the reforms to get the remaining funds from its bailout package released. Without the money, Greece will have difficulties paying off debts that are due, raising the risk of bankruptcy and a potential exit from the euro currency.

Tsipras insisted that Greece is doing its utmost to move the process forward, saying that he has spent 90 per cent of his time since coming to office in January discussing short term solutions to the bailout issue.

But he said that now it was up to the EU’s institutions to do more.

“This is for our common interest,” Tsipras said. “There is no Greek problem, there is a European problem.”