Washington (AFP) – It is “urgent” to reach an agreement on a loan program for Greece but a commitment is still required from Athens on reforms and from Europe on debt relief, a senior IMF official said Friday.
“It is urgent that we agree on a program and that we conclude these discussions because it’s taking a toll on the Greek economy,” Poul Thomsen, head of the IMF’s European department, said.
“There is no doubt about that, it’s serious,” he told reporters.
Talks between Greece, the International Monetary Fund and the eurozone have dragged on for many months. But Athens needs a fresh infusion of funds soon to make its debt payments due in July.
Despite pressure from European heavyweight Germany, the IMF so far has refused to participate in the 86 billion euro loan program the eurozone agreed with Greece in mid-2015, the third since 2010, largely over the issue of the nation’s debt sustainability.
On the reform side, while some outstanding issues remain, Thomsen said “good progress” has been made with the Greek authorities in recent weeks, including on budget issues. An IMF mission will be back in Athens “next week.”
– Budget surplus –
Greece announced on Friday a budgetary surplus (excluding debt charges) of 3.9 percent of GDP in 2016, in line with a target set by Europeans.
European Commissioner Pierre Moscovici welcomed the result.
“This should contribute to the will for the steps that lie ahead to find a lasting and comprehensive solution,” he said on the sidelines of the IMF Spring meeting.
French Economy Minister Michel Sapin also was optimistic about a deal.
“I am quite confident that we will find, with the IMF and Germany, a solution that will help Greece and thus the EU to stabilize the situation,” he told AFP.
Thomsen, however, said disagreements persist over the period of time in which Athens will have to meet the surplus objective, which the IMF considers too ambitious.
The eurozone says Greece can deliver a primary surplus of 3.5 percent of GDP in 2018 but the IMF has said only 1.5 percent is feasible.
The IMF also needs more clarification from Europe on the how it will implement the promised debt relief for Greece, he said.
If these two issues are resolved, the IMF will be able to participate financially in the aid plan, as it did in 2010 and 2012, Thomsen said.
IMF chief Christine Lagarde on Friday met with Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos and she had “constructive” discussions, but did not provide further details.
She has stressed that the fund cannot participate in any loan program unless the debt level of the country is considered sustainable.