March 24, 2017 / 5:41 PM / 6 months ago

EU's Juncker pushes for preliminary deal on Greek bailout by April 7

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker delivers a speech during a debate on the future of the E.U. to mark the upcoming 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Friday euro zone lenders and Greece should reach a technical deal before a meeting of euro zone finance ministers on April 7.

In a statement responding to a letter by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras criticizing International Monetary Fund (IMF) demands for labor reforms, Juncker declined to take a clear position on the contentious issue.

The IMF is pushing Greece to adopt such reforms as a condition to join an 86 billion euro ($93 billion) bailout program, so far funded only by euro zone creditors.

In the letter, Tsipras had sought to link Greek support for a declaration marking the EU’s 60th birthday in Rome on Saturday to a recognition that the EU legal framework on social issues, known as acquis, also applied to Greece.

“For me, there is no doubt that the EU social acquis applies to Greece as to any other EU member state,” Juncker said.

Athens is at odds with requests from the IMF to change rules to make it easier to fire workers by weakening trade union bargaining powers. Greece says this would go against EU principles.

“There is no ‘one-size-fit-all’ in the social acquis or in the economic textbook when it comes to organizing collective bargaining. Let me add that there is no place for ideology either,” Juncker said.

He added that, although the issue was part of protracted talks between Athens and its lenders, this should not prevent a deal, leading to the disbursement of further funds.

The next meeting of euro zone finance ministers is scheduled in Malta on April 7. “Ideally, we should be in a position to present a staff level agreement by then and we will continue to support you to that end,” Juncker said.

A staff level agreement is a technical deal, which would pave the way for a political compromise among ministers to unblock new funds to Athens and which might allow the IMF to consider joining the bailout program.

Reporting by Francesco Guarascio

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