Greece to resume talks on debt writedown





Greece will continue talks Friday with private banks and insurers on hammering out a deal for a major debt writedown to escape a looming default, as “progress” was reported amid mounting pressure.

Prime Minister Lucas Papademos and Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos on Thursday resumed discussions with the lead negotiators of the private creditors, Charles Dallara and Jean Lemierre, a statement said.


Thursday’s meeting in Athens “focused on legal and technical issues on the voluntary PSI and some progress was realised. Work will continue tomorrow,” the creditors said in a statement.

The third round of talks between Athens and private creditors aims to reach agreement on a voluntary exchange of bonds that would wipe 100 billion euros ($130 billion) off the country’s debt of 350 billion euros.

The Private Sector Involvement (PSI) deal under discussion would see the creditors take a “haircut” of at least 50 percent on the 200 billion euros in debt they hold.

Two previous rounds of talks have snagged on the amount of interest to be paid on the remaining debt.

Greek government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis told the private radio Flash on Thursday that he “hoped to conclude an accord as quickly as possible.”

“There is very strong pressure on Greece and the banks to reach a deal from all member states,” a European source said.

Athens faces a critical bond reimbursement worth 14.5 billion euros on March 20.

It had hoped to present European Union leaders a framework agreement on the debt writedown at their summit on Monday, and sign an agreement by February 13 so there is sufficient time for the writedown to be achieved.

A Greek finance ministry official said a new analysis will be conducted to ensure that the writedown returns Greece’s debt to a sustainable level.

The eurozone and International Monetary Fund (IMF) will conduct the analysis and the deal would be adjusted depending on its conclusions, added the official on condition of anonymity.

The IMF, which is bound by rules to lend only to countries that have sustainable debt levels, has insisted on achieving a 120 percent debt level, but sources close to the talks said proposals now on the table would only get Greece down to around 130 percent.

Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers, said Friday that Greece’s creditor countries should also waive a portion of the country’s debt, as cutting private debt alone was not enough.

Countries should ask themselves “whether public aid may be needed”, the Luxembourg premier told Austria’s Standard newspaper as Greek media speculated that the results of the new debt analysis could also be used to step up pressure on official creditors.

The European Central Bank (ECB), which holds around 45 billion euros worth of Greek bonds, has so far ignored calls for it to accept losses.

IMF chief Christine Lagarde warned Wednesday that European public creditors would need to pitch in and help Greece.

The fund however denied a report that it had pressed the ECB to write off some of the value of its Greek bonds to help finalise the debt deal.

European Union officials made a debt writedown a condition before public creditors commit to a second EU rescue package worth 130 billion euros.

Greece has received two-thirds of the 110 billion euros it was promised under an EU-IMF programme concluded in May 2010.

Patience is running thin, with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble calling on Greece to move quickly on economic reforms in order to get fresh support.

“We’ve had enough announcements, the government in Athens must act now,” he was quoted as saying in an interview due to appear in Friday’s edition of the Stuttgarter Zeitung.

While Greece has undertaken austerity measures, its bailout partners have been exasperated by its slow implementation of structural reforms and privatisation that are seen as necessary for the country to return to growth and pay its debts.