BRUSSELS – Greece’s finance minister and international creditors met Friday to move forward talks on the bailout program keeping the Greek economy afloat, amid renewed tensions about the country’s future in the euro.
Ahead of the talks in Brussels, Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who chairs the eurozone finance ministers’ group, said that “the reforms in Greece are going slowly, but they’re going in the right direction.”
“They now need a push. I am not in a great hurry, so the stories about a crisis are a gross exaggeration,” he told reporters before leaving the Netherlands for the meeting.
Dijsselbloem wants to exploit any opportunity to lay the foundations for an agreement before a key meeting of the 19-nation eurozone on Feb. 20, particularly with elections looming in the Netherlands.
Greece needs to agree with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and its European creditors on more reforms to keep tapping its bailout loans. Although Greece insists it doesn’t have pressing cash needs, without the money, it would eventually face the renewed possibility of default — something that nearly caused it to fall out of the euro bloc in 2015.
Greece’s next big debt repayment deadline is in July, but officials want to solve its funding problems before then as key European elections loom as early as next month. The Netherlands goes to the polls on March 15, followed by France and Germany later in the year, and the issue of providing more loans to Greece is politically sensitive.
Negotiations over Greece’s reforms remain mired in disagreement. The Greek government opposes labor reforms, and the IMF is at odds with European lenders over the extent to which the country’s massive debts should be eased.
Dijsselbloem said Friday’s talks would not be about debt relief.
“What is on the table is the budget, the primary surplus, further reforms in the pension system,” he said. No official statement was expected from the Brussels talks.