BRUSSELS – Greece’s European creditors told Athens to stop wasting time and flesh out as of Wednesday its proposals for economic reforms, which are crucial to releasing vital funds to assure financial survival.
“We have spent now two weeks apparently discussing who meets whom where, in what configuration, and on what agenda and it is a complete waste of time,” Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who heads the meeting known as the Eurogroup, said Monday.
“We’ve talked about this long enough now,” he told reporters, after the fourth ministerial meeting on Greece in Brussels in a month.
After a meeting of the 19-nation group using the euro single currency, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis agreed that technical talks on the reforms proposed by Greece to secure a four-month bailout extension should begin in Brussels on Wednesday and denied holding up the process.
“There has been no time wasted, not by the Greek government,” he said. “We were very speedy.”
The eurozone agreed last month to extend Greece’s bailout until June, but before it actually pays out more rescue loans it wants to approve a detailed list of reforms by April. So far, Greece has only outlined some of its proposals in broad terms.
After an initial list of seven initiatives, Varoufakis said that Greece would soon provide “another batch of seven or eight reforms” for the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund to assess.
The final 7.5 billion euro installment of Greece’s 240 billion euro international bailout is still pending, and without it, the country is quickly running out of funds and faces repayments of IMF loan installments this month.
Dijsselbloem said there could be “no talk of disbursement (of bailout funds) if there is no implementation.”
He said the eurozone would consider disbursing the loans in parts, but that could happen only after Greece had begun implementing its reforms.
Greece’s government was voted into power in January on promises of abolishing the budget austerity that accompanied the bailout. But it has had to roll back on a series of pre-election promises, including seeking a write-off of most of the country’s debt.
Monday’s meeting was held under a cloud of skepticism among Greece’s partners over its progress in detailing the promised reforms.
Over the weekend, Varoufakis said in an interview with Italy’s Corriere de la Sera newspaper that if the creditors do not eventually approve the reforms, his government could call new elections or a referendum. The government later clarified any referendum would be on the content of reforms and fiscal policy.
Among other reforms, Varoufakis’ suggestions include using “non-professional inspectors” such as students, housewives and tourists, to crack down on tax evasion, according to a leaked copy of the letter.
The inspectors would be hired on a short-term casual basis “to pose, after some basic training, as customers, on behalf of the tax authorities, while ‘wired’ for sound and video,” the letter says.
Elena Becatoros reported from Athens, Greece. Raf Casert in Brussels, Mike Corder in The Hague, Frank Jordans in Berlin, and Nicholas Paphitis in Athens contributed to this report.