Dijsselbloem: Return of the institutions to Athens ‘first goal’

The return of the institutions to Athens to resume negotiations was the “first goal” on the agenda, Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem said in a doorstep statement as he arrived for Monday’s Eurogroup.

“We have had intense talks with the institutions and the Greek government in order to clear the ground for the missions to return to Athens. In the Eurogroup we will discuss whether we’ve come to that point. Because that is my goal, to get the missions back in Athens, on the ground, to talk about all the difficult stuff that still needs to be sorted out,” he said.

“We’ve covered a lot of ground. We’ll see in the Eurogroup if we have done enough,” he added.

“Today we will just discuss how to get the mission of the institutions back to Athens and that requires agreement on sustantial reforms and additional measures to be taken. The mission will then go down to Athens, sort all of that out, and by the time they come back we will look at the whole package, including debt. But it won’t be on the agenda today,” he said.

Dijsselbloem also made it clear, in response to questions, that the next step will be made with the IMF on board.
“That is my target. I am not doing this exercise to take another step as Europeans, without the IMF. The next step will have to be with the IMF,” he stressed, while noting that the IMF’s positions were unchanged.

“They are very willing to participate in the programme, are in principle prepared to go to the board, but their demand is and always has been that it is a serious programme, with in-depth reforms and sustainable debt. So all of that needs to be sorted out before we can bring them on board,” he added.

Asked if there was a deadline for a deal on Greece, Dijsselbloem replied “not really.” He said the liquidity issues were “not substantial” and won’t occur until the summer, “so there is no acute need for money.”

“Economically, of course, it is important that the stability that we’ve achieved in Greece and the economic recovery continues. And therefore it will be useful if it all happens quite quickly,” he said.

Asked whether the IMF could be persuaded to come on board without the debt relief measures it has asked for, Dijsselbloem pointed out that a number of debt relief measures have already been taken, most recently in January.

“We will come back to that at the end of the programme,” he added, stressing that for the moment “we need to concentrate on these deep reform that the IMF, quite rightly, asks of the Greek government.”

Dijsselbloem also denied that upcoming elections in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe might be a cause for additional speed.

“There’s always an election somewhere in Europe; it doesn’t stop me, it doesn’t speed me up. I want to do it as quickly as possible but we are talking about complex reforms…so let’s be realistic. As soon as we get the mission back to Athens – and that is my first goal – then there is still a lot of work to be done.”

Noting that the talks held on Monday were a “good step, a positive step” he urged reporters to wait for the outcome of the Eurogroup.

“I think it is in our joint interest – the Greeks, the whole Eurogroup and the Netherlands – to have a stable recovery in Greece. And that is what we are doing. Anyone who wants to talk about crisis can talk to someone else because the Greek economy is gradually recovering and what we need to do is to strengthen that and give that more opportunity,” he replied in response to other questions.