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Eurogroup sceptical over 'exceptionally difficult' Greece talks

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By Alasdair Sandford  with Reuters
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Eurogroup sceptical over 'exceptionally difficult' Greece talks

If anyone thought the Greek finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos might have an easy ride in Brussels given Athens’ belated bending to its creditors’ demands, they might want to think again.

There is still a lot of criticism on the proposals on the reform side on the fiscal side and there is of course the major issue of trust

Despite the positive reaction to the latest Greek moves from some creditors, it soon became clear that Saturday afternoon’s meeting of European finance ministers was going to be no push-over.

Even though Athens now agrees to more austerity after the Greek parliament backed Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ proposals to seek a third bailout, some of Europe’s most important decision-makers remain sceptical – with the issue of trust emerging as a key issue.

Germany is Greece’s biggest creditor. Its finance minister said negotiations would be “exceptionally difficult”.

“The problem is that that there was a situation at the end of the year that was very hopeful, despite all the scepticism of previous years, and that this was destroyed in an incredible way in the last months,” Wolfgang Schäuble said.

Nor can others put aside the recent bad blood between Greece’s left-wing Syriza government and international lenders as they scrutinise the Greek proposals.

“There is still a lot of criticism on the proposals on the reform side on the fiscal side and there is of course the major issue of trust – can the Greek government be trusted to actually do what they are promising to implement in the coming weeks, months and years and I think those are the key issues that will be discussed today (Saturday),” said the President of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem.

Athens is looking for 53.5 billion euros to cover debt over three years,
in return for reforms, spending cuts and tax rises. Only last weekend Greek voters said a resounding “No” to such austerity measures in a referendum.

Euronews correspondent Efi Koutsokosta reported from Brussels:
“The eurozone ministers are divided as for the prospect of an agreement today (Saturday). The political backstage is the scene of intensive activity with the Greek finance minister holding various bilateral meetings. Many EU officials say that tomorrow (Sunday) will be the decisive day, at the crucial and historical EU Summit for Greece”.

This weekend is Greece’s last chance to avert bankruptcy and possibly crashing out of the eurozone.

But the finance ministers have their own countries to answer to; the outcome is uncertain.