Greece, EU powers agree to step up debt talks as crunch looms

Updated: 2015-06-11 10:13


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The talks have been deadlocked over Greece's rejection of the creditors' demands for cuts in pensions and unpopular labor market reforms as conditions for releasing frozen bailout funds.

Greece will be in default at the end of June without fresh funds to let it to repay 1.6 billion euros to the IMF. It put off a smaller repayment earlier this month under a rarely used IMF rule allowing it to combine all payments due in any month.

It was the fifth conversation among the three leaders in less than two weeks, highlighting the seriousness of efforts to prevent a breakdown that could force Greece out of the euro zone, raising doubts about the irreversibility of the 16-year-old currency and unsettling global financial markets.

But officials played down the extent to which Merkel and Hollande were prepared to go into the substance of negotiations.

Before the talks, Merkel stressed that while they want to keep Greece in the 19-nation single currency area, that required it to conclude technical talks: "The message will be: you've got to continue negotiations with the three institutions," she said.

A German spokesman dismissed as "pure invention" a media report that Merkel might agree to a deal if Greece committed to at least one major economic reform sought by the creditors.

While both sides may be holding out to see if the other blinks first, time is running out and Tsipras faces pressure not just from left-wing hardliners but also from Greek voters, most of whom say they want to remain in the euro zone.

A poll showed a slight rise since April in the number who are dissatisfied with Tsipras's negotiating performance with the creditors, reaching 53.4 percent from 50.5 percent.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who accused Tsipras on Sunday of misrepresenting the creditors' proposals and misleading his parliament, had a brief meeting with the Greek leader and agreed to resume talks on Thursday.

"For this final push, the Commission is of the view that the ball is now clearly in the court of the Greek government," spokesman Margaritis Schinas told a news conference.

Tsipras has denounced creditors' demands to scrap an income top-up for the poorest pensioners and to refrain from unilateral moves to reintroduce collective bargaining or raise the minimum wage - policies that are anathema for his leftist Syriza party.

Brussels says he is free to put forward alternative measures provided the numbers add up to deliver a small primary budget surplus before debt service payments.

In a further complication, a Greek court ruled that the government should reverse cuts to private sector pensions it made in 2012 as a condition of its bailout agreement because the reductions deprived pensioners of the right to a decent life.

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