‘We did not try to delay the review’ says Tsakalotos while briefing MPs on Eurogroup

The government’s goal is to conclude talks on the programme’s measures and counter-measures in time for the next Eurogroup in March, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos told MPs on Tuesday. Briefing Parliament’s Economic Affairs Committee, Tsakalotos also denied that the government had tried to delay the completion of the review.

“We did not try to delay but negotiated on what we consider part of the solution, based on our principles,” Tsakalotos said.

Pointing out the difficulty of briefing Parliament while the negotiation was still ongoing and nothing was finalised, Tsakalotos said the prime minister’s speech a few days earlier had also explained a number of points concerning the Eurogroup’s decision on February 20.

Opposition criticism blaming the government for the delay in completing the review, he added, was in stark contrast to statements in Europe and America that blamed disagreement between the lenders. The disparity was so great as to raise questions regarding its motives, he added, pointing to the major “systemic” differences between the IMF and the European institutions.

“Are you the only ones that cannot see the differences with the IMF? Are you the only ones unaware of what [the IMF] was asking for at the Eurogroup in December?” he said, urging opposition parties to consider the complexity of the reforms implemented in recent months, both politically and technically.

He also urged them to recall the IMF’s demands at that time and asked whether opposition parties would have agreed to an additional 2 pct of GDP in recessionary measures to complete the review.

The minister highlighted statements by Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem and European Commission Pierre Moscovici that the measures taken now will have a “net” neutral fiscal impact, as well as the shift in the IMF’s original position – which forecast that Greece will fail to meet a 3.5 pct of GDP target – to its current demand for “structural reforms” instead.

“It is within the agreement that structural-type reforms will be carried out,” Tsakalotos said, adding that the Eurogroup on February 20 ratified a political agreement for the return of the institutions to Athens.

Among the issues on which the IMF had backed down was that of collective labour agreements, which the government considered part of the solution, where it was now prepared to consider the recommendations of the ‘Wise Men Committee’ and adoption of EU best practices, Tsakalotos said.

“You have to convince working men and women that they will have some participation in the recovery phase at least,” he added.

The third part of the agreement was the “hugely important” package for unemployment and Greece was currently in talks with international organisations for loans to finance active labour policies, the finance minister said.

“We are now where we wanted to be. We are in a process where everything will be agreed as a package and we can all say whether we like or do not like the whole [package],” the finance minister said.

He noted that the staff-level agreement must be finalised, the discussion on the measures and counter-measures concluded and, once a temporary agreement was reached, there could then be a discussion on the size of fiscal surpluses and medium-term measures for the debt. The package could only be agreed, he added, once all the figures were known.