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Budget surplus possible for Greece

Greece can achieve a primary budget surplus this year — and growth in 2014 — if it sticks to economic reforms, but a return to bond markets will be challenging, European Central Bank executive board member Joerg Asmussen said in a newspaper interview yesterday.

Mr Asmussen was in Athens this week to meet senior government officials and take stock of the economy. His visit was overshadowed by speculation of a new bailout for Greece after comments by German finance minister Wolfgang Schaueble.

"Having a low but positive rate of growth next year is achievable, but there must be persistence with reforms," Mr Asmussen told Greek newspaper Vima.

"I understand the difficult political situation and the small parliamentary majority, but what has been achieved with such political pain up to now must not be demolished. What’s the credible alternative solution?" he was quoted as saying.

Mired in its sixth straight year of recession, Greece has already been bailed out twice since 2010, with €240 billion of loans coordinated by the ECB, European Union and International Monetary Fund.

Athens faces a funding gap of about €11 billion in 2014-15, after its current bailout programme ends in the first half of next year and its eurozone partners have pledged additional support until it can tap markets again.

"It is true that the debt level will rise in the next years and a full access to markets will be a challenge," said Mr Asmussen.

But he said speculation of a third rescue package was premature.