BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Euro zone finance ministers pressed Greece on Thursday to speed up structural reforms and continue fiscal consolidation and privatisation to unblock more of the international loans that keep it afloat.
“A lot of progress has been made, also at social and political costs for the Greek society, and I think we fully acknowledge that,” the chairman of euro zone finance ministers Jeroen Dijsselbloem said after a meeting of the group.
“Yet the only way forward to strengthen economic perspectives, to strengthen competitiveness, is to follow up on what we agreed, on the commitments that we made to each other.”
Officials said Greece had to urgently step up progress on structural reforms, find a way to plug a fiscal gap in the 2014 budget, accelerate privatisation, overhaul its public sector and boost competition in product and services markets.
EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn declined to say what the size of the fiscal gap in the 2014 budget was, but officials had earlier put it at 2 billion euros.
A team of officials from the troika of the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank visits Athens regularly to check on progress on its bailout commitments and decide whether to release subsequent loan tranches, without which Greece would default.
The latest inspection began in September but then paused, only to resume on November 4 after Athens provided the lenders with information enabling them to discuss the financing of the 2014 budget. The talks have made no progress since then.
Dijsselbloem said the urgency of progress was political rather than financial as Greece would have enough cash until early next year.
“I think it is very important that the review is finalised as quickly as possible. As we stand now it’s going to be difficult to finalise it in time for us to take decisions in December,” he told a news conference.
“That’s where we stand at the moment and I’m worried about that. I’d like to see progress made.”
Greece has been kept afloat by a financial lifeline from the euro zone and the IMF since 2010, with 240 billion euros of loans pledged in exchange for spending cuts and reforms.
A senior euro zone official said on Tuesday the only deadline for Athens would be the date the country runs out of cash to pay back creditors and keep the state functioning.
After a six-year recession that wiped out 40 percent of household disposable incomes and sent unemployment soaring to almost 28 percent, the Greek people say they can take no more.
The coalition government argues it deserves some slack after making the biggest budget deficit reduction ever seen in the euro zone. Greece’s president said his country would not yield to international pressure to impose more austerity.
Reporting by Barbara Lewis and Jan Strupczewski; editing by Andrew Roche