Ex-troika: greeks speak to "institution" again

It is no longer called the Troika, but the experts from the IMF, ECB and EU are still the same. Three weeks after the election, representatives of the Greeks started talks with the "institution". A common line is sought in the debt dispute.

By Ralph Sina, WDR radio studio Brussels

As if there had been no new elections in Greece at all, representatives of the Troika and financial experts from Athens sit together in Brussels, just like in the days of the Samaras government that was voted out of office. "The Greek Prime Minister Tsipras and the head of the Eurogroup Dijsselbloem agreed that negotiations had to take place immediately," said the spokesman for the EU Commission. Because the EU finance ministers will meet their Greek counterpart Yanis Varoufakis again next Monday.

The Eurogroup is still in shock at the failed first special meeting on Greece, where they literally couldn’t agree on anything Wednesday night – and even Varoufakis on instructions from Athens withdrew its approval of the joint final declaration. 

Ironically, the troika supervisory body made up of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), European Central Bank (ECB) and EU Commission, so hated by Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his voters, is now looking for negotiation parameters with Tsipras’ approval.

"Out of consideration for our Greek friends, we no longer call the Troika the Troika, but rather: ‘The Institution’."

The spokesman for Federal Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble, Martin Jager, on the new name of the Troika

Search for similarities

The Troika experts, together with Athens financial experts, are supposed to try to achieve what is actually impossible: namely to modify the aid program for Greece, which expires at the end of February, so that Tsipras can sell it as a success in Athens without undermining elementary austerity and reform requirements. A spokesman for the EU Commission in Brussels emphasized that similarities should now be discovered between the aid program for Greece and the program of the new government in Athens.

Both sides agree that tax evasion in Greece must finally be consistently combated, as well as corruption in the Greek tax offices and in the entire public administration. There is also agreement between Brussels and Athens that EU citizens have the right to basic medical care and that children should not be driven to hunger as a result of austerity policies.

Greece’s banks in distress

Customers are apparently withdrawing massive amounts of money from Greek banks. According to official data, in December it was four billion euros. In the election month of January, it was probably around twelve billion euros. Most recently, the outflows had added up to 300 to 500 million euros a day, quoted the news agency Reuters as saying that employees of two banks who were not named were quoted. On a few days it could even have been more than a billion euros.

The reason is the uncertain outcome of the debt dispute between the new government and the euro partners. The ECB has meanwhile given Greek financial institutions access to emergency aid due to the high outflow of customer deposits. The subframe was increased by around five billion to 65 billion euros.

It stays with the primary surplus?

But the Greek government only has financial leeway for more social benefits if it no longer has to generate a budget surplus of 4.5 percent before deducting interest payments. Whether the international donors and the EU finance ministers are ready to modify this so-called "primary surplus" requirement, and whether the parliaments of Germany, Finland, Estonia and the Netherlands, which require approval, will also accept such a change, is currently completely open.

And it is completely unclear what kind of accommodation the Tsipras government is prepared to make by next Monday, and what figures on Greece’s current income and expenditure Finance Minister Varoufakis is putting on his colleagues’ table after the new hires in the public sector. 

Eurogroup leader Dijsselbloom emphasized on Dutch television that he was still genuinely pessimistic that an agreement with Greece would be reached on Monday: "The possibilities of the Greek economy are very, very limited. An enormous adjustment is still necessary between what is political is desired and financially feasible. "