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Eurogroup Call Off Face-to-Face Bailout Talks as Greeks Argue (Again)

Euro zone finance ministers dropped plans on Tuesday for a special face-to-face meeting on Greece’s new international bailout, saying political party chiefs in Athens had failed to provide the required commitment to reform.
A source familiar with negotiations on Greece’s 130 billion euro rescue also said conservative leader Eurogroup had yet to sign a commitment to implement the deeply unpopular package – a condition set by the EU/IMF lenders who are weary of broken Greek promises on economic reform and budget cuts.
Ministers in the Eurogroup had been expected to gather in Brussels on Wednesday for a meeting which, if all had gone to plan, would have approved the bailout and saved Greece from a messy bankruptcy next month.
However, with the European Union’s patience with Greece close to breaking point, Eurogroup Chairman Jean-Claude Juncker said the ministers would hold only a telephone conference call before a regular meeting already scheduled for February 20.
Juncker said he was awaiting written undertakings from Greek party leaders on pushing through with the austerity package of pay, pension and job cuts – which parliament passed early on Monday as rioters torched dozens of buildings in central Athens.
“I did not yet receive the required political assurances from the leaders of the Greek coalition parties on the implementation of the program,” he said in a statement.
The source said in Athens that the problem lay with Samaras, who argues that austerity demanded by the EU and IMF is only deepening Greece’s recession and who has proved reluctant in the past to sign similar written undertakings.
“So far Samaras has not given a letter of commitment and this is a problem,” the source told Reuters. Samaras’ New Democracy party declined comment.
A government source said Samaras would provide the undertaking on Wednesday morning. If he does, he will be sticking to a pattern among Greek politicians of working right up to deadlines or beyond, infuriating the European Union.
No Time Left for Greeks
Time is running out. Athens needs rescue funds to avoid a disorderly default when 14.5 billion euros in debt repayments fall due on March 20.
The EU/IMF lenders fear the program of pension, pay and job cuts will not be implemented following elections which are expected in April, and have therefore demanded signed personal commitments from the leaders of both parties in the current coalition of Prime Minister Lucas Papademos.
Even before Juncker scaled down Wednesday’s Eurogroup talks, the Netherlands expressed doubt that the ministers would sign off on the bailout deal, Greece’s second since 2010.
“There is indeed a very small chance there will be final approval tomorrow because I think we should have everything clear on paper,” said Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager.
Speaking on RTL 7 TV, he made clear his government would accept no half-measures from Athens.
“We … don’t give an inch. We have said we want everything, a complete package,” he said. “If we don’t have that clear we, as the Netherlands, cannot agree with the package.”
(Source: Reuters) 

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