(Adds Schaeuble comments)
By Renee Maltezou
ATHENS Jan 13 Greece would welcome an
International Monetary Fund exit from its bailout programme,
saying it might help the country conclude a crucial review of
its progress without adopting more austerity, a government
official said on Friday.
Talks on labour reforms and fiscal issues between the Greek
government and its official creditors - the European Stability
Mechanism (ESM), the European Commission, the European Central
Bank and the IMF - have dragged on for months, rekindling fears
of a new crisis in the debt-laden country.
Despite EU assurances, the IMF says Athens can only attain a
primary surplus of 1.5 percent of gross domestic product beyond
2018, not the 3.5 percent agreed in its bailout, unless it
adopts more austerity. It wants the austerity measures enacted
While the IMF has been pushing the EU to grant the country
significant debt relief, it has also been pushing Athens to
implement unpopular labour reforms. Adopting those would be hard
for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, whose government has been
lagging the conservative opposition in opinion polls.
"The possibility of continuing the programme without the
IMF, or with its presence but without funds and therefore no
central role, is a development which could lead to a way out of
the structural impasse among the institutions," the official
Tsipras wants to speed up the conclusion of the review to
qualify for participation in the ECB's bond-buying programme and
return to bond markets this year. But delays and disagreements
have clouded his hopes.
The IMF, which joined Greece's first international bailout
in 2010, when the debt crisis broke, has yet to decide whether
it will fund its third bailout programme.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble also raised the
idea of a new Greek bailout programme without the IMF in remarks
published on Friday.
"If (the IMF) was to decide for some reason to stop
participating, the Europeans could have the idea ... (for) a
solution of their own within the European currency system,"
Schaeuble told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily in an interview.
But if that were to happen, the Europeans would have to
enforce better the conditions of any new bailout, Schaeuble
said. This task could be handed to the euro zone's bailout-fund
ESM, he added.
Such a change would require approval by Germany's lower
house of parliament, said Schaeuble, who is a senior member of
Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives.
In an effort to break the impasse and secure support before
a key meeting of euro zone finance ministers on Jan. 26, Greek
Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos met EU officials in Brussels
and his French counterpart in Paris this week.
"The view that Europe has an institutional support framework
by itself is not new. It keeps gaining ground among European
institutions and it is welcomed by the Greek side as long as the
initiatives and decisions are taken fast," the Greek official
(Additional reporting by Michael Nienaber in Berlin; editing by
Larry King and Richard Lough)