Greece awaits bailout decision but issues remain

By Sarah Dilorenzo

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Feb. 20 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos, second right, speaks with from left, Belgium's Finance Minister Steven Vanackere, French Finance Minister Francois Baroin and Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos during a round table meeting of eurozone finance ministers at the EU Council building in Brussels on Monday, Feb. 20, 2012. Eurozone governments will likely approve on Monday a long-elusive rescue package for Greece, saving it from a potentially calamitous bankruptcy next month, senior officials said. But finance ministers meeting in Brussels will have a few last issues to wrangle over, such as tighter controls over Greece's spending and further cuts to the country's debt load.

Yves Logghe, Associated Press

BRUSSELS — Eurozone governments are expected to sign off on Monday a long-awaited rescue package for Greece, saving it from a potentially calamitous bankruptcy next month, according to senior officials.

But finance ministers meeting in Brussels still have a few last issues to wrangle over, such as tighter controls over Greece's spending and further cuts to the country's debt load.

Greece needs to secure the €130 billion ($170 billion) bailout quickly so it can move ahead with a related €100 billion ($130 billion) debt relief deal with private investors, which needs to be in place quickly if Athens is to avoid a disorderly default on a bond repayment on March 20.

"I am of the opinion that today we have to deliver, because we don't have any more time," Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of Luxembourg who also chairs the meetings of eurozone finance ministers, said as he arrived in Brussels.

An uncontrolled bankruptcy would likely force Greece to leave the 17-country currency union and return to its old currency, the drachma, further shaking its already beaten economy and creating uncertainty across Europe.

While ministers heading into Monday's meeting cautioned that some details still have to be worked out, they were optimistic that a deal could be reached.

"We now have all of the elements to achieve an agreement," said French Finance Minister Francois Baroin. "Greece knows what it has to do, and we'll watch over it continually. We also know what we have to do."

Apart from the finance ministers of the 17 euro countries, the get-together will also be attended by the heads of Greece's other creditors: the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and representatives of private holders of Greek debt.

Greece's Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who arrived in Brussels Sunday night, said he hoped those creditors would hold up their end of the deal.

"Greece comes into today's Eurogroup meeting having fulfilled all the requirements for the approval of the new program," he said. "For Greeks, this is a matter of national dignity and a national strategic choice and no other integrated and responsible choice can be opposed to it."

Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, who rushed to Brussels on Sunday night hoping to lend more weight to Greece's promises, arrived at the meeting Monday but did not speak to reporters.

The Greek parliament has faced down violent protests to approve the austerity measures demanded by the eurozone. Its main political leaders have committed in writing to uphold the bailout terms even after general elections in April.

Despite Athens' efforts, however, several important elements of the deal remained unsolved, and some countries have indicated their patience with Greece was growing short. In recent days, the discontent has threatened to scuttle the new bailout.

"We've seen that Greece time and time again fails to satisfy the conditions that the international community makes. ... In the Netherlands, it really is an issue that you have to lend money to a country that for the upteenth time hasn't held itself to its agreements," said Jan Kees de Jager, the finance minister from the Netherlands, which has been especially hard on Greece. "So it's indeed essential to me, and also the Dutch government, that we have control over the money that we're going to lend."

To that end, Greece is expected to be forced to set up a separate account that would ensure it services its debt. This escrow account would give legal priority to debt and interest payments over paying for government services. That would maintain pressure on Greece to stick to promised austerity and reform measures and spare the eurozone the risk of a destabilizing default.

In addition, Greece's international creditors will station permanent representatives in Athens to monitor the country's progress.

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