By Renee Maltezou| ATHENS
ATHENS Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called on Greece’s international lenders on Thursday to reach an agreement on easing its debt burden by May 22, when euro zone finance ministers meet in Brussels to discuss the bailout progress.
Athens and its creditors reached a long-awaited deal this week on a series of bailout reforms Greece needs to unlock loans from its 86-billion euro rescue package, the country’s third since in 2010.
The European Union and the International Monetary Fund, which has yet to announce if it will participate in the bailout, have now started negotiations over Greece’s post-bailout fiscal targets, a key element for granting it further debt relief.
“Medium-term debt relief measures must be clearly defined by the May 22 Eurogroup meeting,” Tsipras told his cabinet on Thursday, referring to the finance ministers. “Greece has done its part and all parties must now fulfill their commitments.”
An agreement on debt relief measures may help bring the IMF on board. It will also allow Greece to wrap up its formal bailout review after six months of tense talks, help it qualify for inclusion in the European Central Bank’s bond-buying program, and let it return to bond markets.
Greece’s debt stands at 179 percent of gross domestic product. Under discussion are its targets for a primary surplus, which excludes debt servicing cots, over a decade.
Tsipras’ leftist-led government aims to legislate the recently-agreed reforms, which include cutting pensions in 2019 and reducing the tax-free threshold in 2020, by May 17.
The government, which faces elections in 2019 and is sagging in opinion polls, controls 153 lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament and should succeed. Labor unions have planned a 24-hour anti-austerity strike on the day of the vote.
“We decided to complete the process by May 17 in order to deprive the Eurogroup of the right to talk about delays and finding excuses to extend the discussions on debt relief,” a government official said after the cabinet meeting.
But the official added that euro zone finance ministers may need “a few more days” after May 22 to reach a deal, which includes debt.
“We want the medium-term debt relief measures to be specified at the May 22 meeting and this is not only Greece’s but also its lenders’ target and intension,” the official said.
“But we may need a few more days… after all, this is a discussion which has been going on for seven years.”
(Editing by Jeremy Gaunt and Gareth Jones)