Showdown looms for Athens and Brussels

Greece prime minister Alexis Tsipras struck a defiant tone over Greece’s bailout ahead of a meeting in Brussels with European leaders, a stance broadly supported by the cash-strapped country’s citizens.

“People have asked us to put an end to austerity and bailout agreements, to begin the process of reclaiming the dignity of the nation,” Tsipras said in a speech yesterday in Athens.

“We respond today, tomorrow and on Friday in parliament by building a wall of sovereignty and dignity,”he said.

Tsipras is seeking a political deal at an EU summit starting today to unlock funds from the country’s €240bn bailout package. Concern is growing among officials that the recalcitrance of his government may end up forcing Greece out of the euro, as the country refuses to take the action needed to trigger more financial support.

“Time is running out for Greece,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said yesterday in Berlin.

IMF officials told their euro-area colleagues on Tuesday that Greece is the most unhelpful country the organisation has dealt with in its 70-year history, according to two people familiar with the talks.

In a short and bad-tempered conference call, officials from the IMF, the ECB and the European Commission complained that Greek officials aren’t adhering to a bailout extension deal reached in February or co-operating with creditors, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the call was private.

“Elected officials will negotiate with elected officials and technocrats will deal with technocrats,” Tsipras said in his speech to parliament.

“For the past 50 days, we’ve been taking threats, which consistently prove to be meaningless, and only undermine those who make them,” he said.

Tsipras is pinning his hopes for a breakthrough at a meeting with ECB president Mario Draghi, German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Francois Hollande and European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker on the sidelines of the Brussels gathering.

Tsipras will also travel to Berlin next week for one-on-one talks with Merkel. The two nations have been locked in acrimonious exchanges over the continuation of Greece’s austerity program and whether Germany should pay reparations for the Nazi occupation of the country during World War II.

Euro-region finance ministers are urging Greece to draw up a plan to fix the economy in exchange for emergency loans to keep the country afloat.

As Tsipras challenges his creditors to blink first, his government’s money is running out, raising the prospect of a cash crunch by this month. The country faces more than €2bn in debt payments tomorrow, and government salaries and pensions must be paid at the end of March.

Bloomberg


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