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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 29 November 2014
SATURDAY 29 NOVEMBER 2014 23 GREECE Failure to break Troika deadlock Representatives of the Greek government and its international creditors left Paris with little to show after failing to break a deadlock over Greece's future financing in talks that ran deep into the night. The annual ritual of haggling over budget numbers, a feature of Greece's scrutiny since its 2010 bailout, took to the road this year with two rounds of negotiations in the French capital that broke up today. While the backdrop may have changed from the concrete block of the Greek Finance Ministry, ringed with Athens protesters, to a leafy private street off the Avenue Foch, the bleary eyes after allnight deliberations that yielded few results remained very much the same. "Huge consumption of cof- fee, occasionally sandwiches or souvlaki accompanied by a can of beer, exchange of arguments - sometimes interesting, sometimes tedious and repetitive - are the order of the day, or rather night," Panos Tsakloglou, who has firsthand experience of the talks, said in an email. Tsakloglou was Greece's representative in the working group of senior euro-area finance ministry officials until June and is now a professor at the Athens University of Economics and Business. In this round, neither side was prepared to accept the arguments of the other, meaning that a deadlock over freeing up the last tranche of the country's bailout remains in place. Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is pushing for an exit to the 240 billion-euro ($300 billion) bailout at the end of the year, a goal that would make this the final review of Greece's compliance with the terms agreed with the troika of officials representing the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. For that ambition to be realised, the current review must be completed by year's end, which realistically means by December 8, when euroarea finance ministers meet in Brussels for the last time this year. The major sticking point between the sides going into the talks was the troika's insistence that Greece needs to find about 2.5 billion euros in additional budget cuts to meet its fiscal targets for next year. That issue remained unresolved at the end of the talks in Paris, which also didn't settle on a date for the troika to return to Athens to complete the review, a Finance Ministry official said after the meeting. "We will be continuing our dialogue intensively, and we're now working to successfully complete the review," Declan Costello, the commission's mission chief for Greece, told reporters after the talks, held at Greece's representation to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Greece has consistently met its fiscal targets in the past years, and the govern- ment feels that it is being punished for this success, a senior Greek government official said after the failure to seal a deal in Paris. While Italy and France persistently ignore agreed-upon European Union budget-deficit rules, the troika is attempting to make an example out of Greece, according to the official, who asked for anonymity because talks between the government and the troika are private. The troika's claim that there's a 2.5 billion-eurowide fiscal hole "seems implausible", said Tsakloglou, who had to fight off identical demands to plug a nonexistent gap a year ago. He said the creditors were probably extrapolating from current figures, and "disregard- ing the fact that by design several taxes are expected to be collected in the coming months. The government will not, under any circumstances, discuss an extension to the current bailout of six months or a year - nor the strings attached, said the government official. Greece could only accept a technical extension of as much as one month to allow enough time for completion of the current review, the official said. As delegations from Greece and the troika return to their respective homes in Athens, Brussels, Washington and Frankfurt, they can look forward to the next round of negotiations. Until then, they'll always have Paris. Source: Kathimerini Thousands took to the streets of Thessaloniki, Greece, as part of the 24-hour nationwide general strike to protest against austerity and unemployment on 27 November, 2014. PHOTO: AAP IMAGE/NEWZULU/KONSTANTINOS TSAKALIDIS. General strike over Greek austerity measures A 24-hour general strike over austerity measures has closed schools and public offices and heavily disrupted transport throughout Greece. Thousands demonstrated in Athens and other big cities in the country. Greece has finally pulled out of a six-year recession, and its government is trying to exit a €240bn (£190bn; $300bn) international bailout. But Greeks are angry at continuing austerity and high jobless rates. Hospitals were open only for emergencies, and shops and banks were also hit by the first general strike in Greece since April. Major routes in Athens were gridlocked, ferries were halted and air-traffic controllers walked out, leaving dozens of flights grounded. Protesters marched carrying banners reading ‘we will not pay for their crisis’. One demonstrator told AFP news agency: "For the past six years, Greek society has suffered and is being strangled economically by measures taken by the government and our European counterparts." According to Greek media, it was the 32nd widely observed strike since 2010, when Greece sought an international bailout in the midst of the eurozone crisis. The strikes were called amid the threat of further austerity measures. Ministers are negotiating in Brussels with Greece's EU/ IMF lenders on next year's budget, which is expected to include pension reform and more layoffs. In a statement, the private sector GSEE union said it was challenging the "dogmatic obsession" of both the government and its international lenders with austerity and tax increases. The government has warned that due to a delay in nego- tiations, Greece may have to exit the bailout later than expected. Parliament will debate the 2015 budget next month. Greece has the highest unemployment rate in the EU, at just under 26 per cent, although the figures have begun falling. Youth unemployment is at almost 50 per cent.
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