Finance ministers meeting in Brussels Monday were still wrangling over how to reduce Greece’s debt load further and impose even tighter control over the country’s spending, and negotiations were expected to stretch late into the night. Rich countries like Germany and the Netherlands and the International Monetary Fund want to be sure that Athens can eventually survive without aid.
But after months of delays, time for Greece is running out. The country needs to secure the $170 billion) bailout so it can move ahead with a related $130 billion debt relief deal with private investors. That deal needs to be in place quickly if Athens is to avoid a disorderly default on a bond repayment on March 20.
“I am of the opinion that today we have to deliver, because we don’t have any more time,” Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of Luxembourg who also chairs the meetings of eurozone finance ministers, said as he arrived in Brussels.
An uncontrolled bankruptcy would likely force Greece to leave the 17-country currency union and return to its old currency, the drachma, further shaking its already beaten economy and creating uncertainty across Europe.
Heading into the meeting earlier Monday, ministers were optimistic that a deal could be reached.
“We now have all of the elements to achieve an agreement,” said French Finance Minister Francois Baroin. “Greece knows what it has to do, and we’ll watch over it continually. We also know what we have to do.”
But the finance ministers were also negotiating on several fronts, trying to move Greece’s other creditors to increase their commitments. Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos rushed to Brussels to back up his finance chief, Evangelos Venizelos, in talks with the IMF, the European Central Bank and representatives of private holders of Greek debt.