ATHENS/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Greece sent its euro zone partners an augmented list of proposed reforms on Friday but EU officials said several more steps were required before any release of aid funds to a country that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras says has a noose around its neck.
Struggling to scrape together cash and avoid possible default, Athens made a 310 million euro partial loan repayment to the International Monetary Fund, while Tsipras pleaded to be allowed to issue more short-term debt to plug a funding gap.
Greece is running out of options to fund itself despite striking a deal with the euro zone in February to extend its EU/IMF bailout by four months.
European Central Bank President Mario Draghi has refused to raise a limit on Athens’ issuance of three-month treasury bills which Greek banks buy with emergency central bank funds. He said on Thursday the EU treaty prohibited indirect monetary financing of governments.
“The ECB has still got a rope around our neck,” the leftist Greek premier complained in an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel released on Friday. If the ECB continued to object, it would be assuming a grave responsibility, he said.
“Then it would be back to the thriller we saw before Feb. 20,” Tsipras said, referring to the date when Greece agreed a four-month extension of its bailout with euro zone partners after market jitters ignited by political uncertainty.
In a letter to the 19-nation Eurogroup, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis outlined plans to fight tax evasion, activate a “fiscal council” to generate budget savings and update licensing of gaming and lotteries to boost state revenues, a Greek official said.
However, the expanded list of reforms arrived too late for deputy finance ministers and European Commission experts who met on Thursday to scrutinize it before a regular meeting of finance ministers of the currency area next Monday.
“Whatever proposals emerge (from Varoufakis), they can’t be seen in isolation,” said a senior EU official, who declined to be named due to the sensitive nature of the talks. “They have to been seen in the overall context of all policy measures ... There is no connection with the disbursements.”
One key condition for Greece to receive any more euro zone money is for Athens to reach an agreement with its three international creditors - the euro zone, the ECB and the IMF - on the implementation of reforms agreed by the previous government. Such talks have not even begun yet.
“FEWER WORDS, MORE DEEDS”
Greece must repay a total of 1.5 billion euros to the IMF over the next two weeks against a backdrop of dwindling tax revenues, frozen bailout funds and economic stagnation. Three other installments are due on March 13, 16 and 20.
In an apparent recognition that outspoken public statements that the country is broke and will not repay its debts and attacks on other euro zone governments have damaged Greece’s position, Tsipras said he had asked his cabinet - including Varoufakis - for “fewer words and more deeds”.
Many EU partners have been exasperated by a torrent of rhetoric from Athens since Tsipras’ hard-left Syriza party won a parliamentary election on Jan. 25 and formed a coalition with the right-wing nationalist Independent Greeks party.
Greece has monthly needs of about 4.5 billion euros, including a wage and pension bill of 1.5 billion euros. It is not due to receive any financial aid until it completes a review by lenders of final reforms required under its bailout.
Greek central bank chief Yannis Stournaras said after talks with Tsipras on Friday that Greek banks were sufficiently capitalized and faced no problem with deposit outflows.
“There is full support for Greek banks (from the ECB), there is absolutely no danger,” he said after the meeting. But he added Monday’s euro zone meeting had to be “successful”.
Athens has begun tapping cash held by pension funds and other entities to avoid running out of funds as early as this month. Various short-term options it has suggested to overcome the cash crunch have been blocked by euro zone lenders to pressure the Tsipras government into enacting reforms.
A German Finance Ministry spokesman said on Friday that Berlin saw no basis for Greece to get the next 1.5 billion euro tranche of its bailout immediately, but if Athens implemented its reforms sooner than expected, it could get paid early.
“If the Greek program is in a position to work out its list of reforms in detail earlier than the end of April and the troika agrees to it and if this program is, accordingly, implemented earlier, it would of course be possible to make a payment earlier,” spokesman Martin Jaeger told reporters.
Additional reporting by Stephen Brown in Berlin, Lefteris Papadimas and George Georgiopoulos in Athens and Robin Emmott in Brussels; Writing by Paul Taylor; Editing by Gareth Jones