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Greek aid talks start as Dutch turn tough

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Finance ministers from the 17-nation Eurogroup yesterday kicked off talks aimed at agreeing the terms of a massive bailout for Greece, the second in almost two years.

After months of acrimonious debate, the ministers began closed-door talks over a potential 230 billion euro (HK$2.37 trillion) rescue of debt- troubled Athens.

Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said on arrival that he is "optimistic" of a deal and IMF chief Christine Lagarde praised Athens' "great efforts" to overhaul its economy.

But hardline Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees De Jager demanded the EU and IMF take "permanent" control of government decision-making over revenues and expenditure in Greece.

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"I am in favor of a permanent troika in Athens," De Jager said referring to European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank officials reviewing the country's finances.

De Jager said partners committed to providing Greece with money for years to come need "some kind of permanent presence" dictating policy on the ground, "not every three months."

He was referring to quarterly reports produced by the "troika," which have in some instances held up disbursement of funds under the initial 110 billion euro bailout for Greece first agreed by officials in May 2010.

Also yesterday in Brussels, British Prime Minister David Cameron and another 11 EU leaders, but not Germany or France, launched a push for a revamped growth agenda at a two-day summit next week.

Conservative Cameron, joined notably by the leaders of Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Poland, co-signed a letter to EU president Herman Van Rompuy calling for a new focus on trade with China, the United States and Russia.

They also urged work on the European energy market and digital economy, alongside a call for an end to easy state guarantees for Europe's banking system.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE


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