| VALLETTA, April 7
VALLETTA, April 7 Greece's international lenders
are ready to send experts to Athens who will sign off on the
country's reforms, helping to unlock new lending, euro zone
Greece is on its third bailout from euro zone governments
since 2010, but to get money it has to pass regular reviews of
its reforms by teams of experts sent by the lenders, called
The latest review has been dragging on since the middle of
last year. Discouraged by the slow progress of talks, the
missions have left Athens.
"There will be an agreement today on the missions returning
to Athens, there is significant progress reached on the package
(of reforms)," one euro zone official with insight into the
The chairman of euro zone finance ministers, Jeroen
Dijsselbloem, told reporters as he entered a meeting of the
ministers in Valletta that he was optimistic and that there were
"results" in the negotiations, but that he wanted to inform the
Once the experts go back to Greece, they will complete what
is called a "staff level agreement" on reforms in exchange for
loans. This is necessary for the ministers to give a political
go-ahead to close the whole review and disburse loans.
European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said
on entering the talks that closing the whole review would
hopefully be possible "within the next few weeks."
The agreement is to include reforms of pensions, income tax,
collective bargaining systems and energy market liberalisation.
They are all supposed to produce a budget surplus before
debt servicing of 3.5 percent of gross domestic product in 2018,
2019 and 2020. The bailout programme ends in mid-2018.
Greece beat its primary surplus target in 2015 and 2016 and
is likely to exceed it again this year. It needs a quick deal on
new loan disbursements to pay debts due in July.
But while institutions representing euro zone governments
believe Greece will easily reach the 3.5 percent target in 2018,
2019 and 2020, the International Monetary Fund has been
sceptical. Euro zone governments, led by Germany, want the IMF
to join the bailout to exert more pressure on the Greeks to
carry out the reforms.
"It is true that the IMF was always a little bit too
pessimistic in recent years, compared to reality," German
Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told reporters on entering
the meeting of euro zone finance ministers.
"The biggest stretch of the road is already behind us, but
the experts are always very precise, so it could need some more
days," he said.
(Additional reporting by Tom Koerkemeier, editing by Larry