ATHENS Greece and its international lenders resumed talks on Wednesday on its fiscal and reform progress, rekindling Athens' hopes that its first bailout review may be concluded before the end of April, with the big issue of pensions high on the agenda.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who has a fragile majority in parliament, wants to conclude the review swiftly so he can begin talks on debt relief and hope that will convince Greeks that their sacrifices are paying off after six years of austerity.
European Union and International Monetary Fund inspectors set the agenda of the talks with Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos before meeting Labour Minister George Katrougalos to discuss pension reforms, including concessions offered by Tsipras to protesting farmers and self-employed professionals.
A government official said the lenders did not demand cuts in standard pensions during the talks on Wednesday, which were preliminary, but "showed a tough stance on the issue of supplementary pensions and were concerned about their viablity".
Pension issues would be revisited this week, while income tax reforms would be discussed on Thursday. The mission was seen staying in Athens about ten days, the official said.
The review was interrupted in early February due to differences among the institutions over the estimated size of a fiscal gap by 2018, but also disagreements with Athens on the depth of the pension reform and the management of bad loans.
Athens has pledged to cut pension spending by 1 percent of GDP this year and reach a primary surplus of 3.5 percent by 2018. It was not clear if the lenders had reached a consensus on the projected fiscal gap which could force Athens to cut pensions further, despite its pre-election promises.
Euro zone finance ministers acknowledged this week that a debate on debt relief was coming up soon, but Greece should first implement pension and tax reforms, set up an independent revenue agency and deal with non-performing loans. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said he expected the review would be completed by early May.
"It's positive that there is an end date for the bailout review, but also a date for the start of the negotiation on debt relief," a second government official told Reuters.
(Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Louise Ireland)