ATHENS (Reuters) - Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Wednesday that Greece was close to concluding a deal with lenders on a multi-billion-euro bailout, which he said would end doubts over its place in the euro zone.
The comments were the latest in a series of unusually upbeat assessments by Greek and European officials of progress in talks towards up to 86 billion euros ($93.6 billion) in fresh loans to stave off the country’s financial ruin and economic collapse.
“We are in the final stretch,” Tsipras said. “Despite the difficulties we are facing we hope this agreement can end uncertainty on the future of Greece.”
An accord must be settled — or a bridge loan agreed — by Aug. 20, when a 3.5 billion euro debt payment to the European Central Bank falls due.
Both sides have said such a deal is possible, although the European Commission described the target as ambitious, suggesting much remains to be done.
Discussions between Greece and representatives from the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank, European Commission and the euro zone’s bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, started in the last week of July.
Tsipras, who was visiting the agriculture ministry, said the process should also potentially include the European Parliament, indirectly alluding to past complaints over the legitimacy of demands from lenders.
“It should at some point be under the control and monitoring of the European Parliament, a democratic institution which has accountability,” Tsipras said.
Over the next two weeks Greece must conclude the bailout, or at least secure a bridge loan such as the one last month to cover its immediate financing needs.Greek officials say the country wants a full bailout immediately rather than a bridge loan.
“We will not accept new prior actions (reform conditions in place) in order to have a small bridge loan,” said Nikos Filis, parliamentary spokesman for Tsipras’s Syriza party.
“We want one final deal to be signed and then we will see what is needed to have a disbursement of 25 billion euros as the first instalment.”
Agreements have already been reached on pensions, including only changing conditions for those eligible after last June.
Talks on privatizations have been held up over what Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos says is a minor issue, essentially over whether a new or existing agency should deal with tenders already agreed.
On one of the trickier questions, that of bank recapitalization, Tsakalotos said on Wednesday that Greece and its international lenders both wanted it agreed before year-end, a move that would avoid new rules forcing large depositors to pay for some of it.
The European Union estimates that the Greek banking sector will need anything from 10 billion euros to 25 billion euros, but the exact amount needed would depend on the results of stress tests and asset-quality reviews.
The poor financing of Greek banks and the prospect of recapitalization, which would hurt existing shareholders, have sent the stock market’s bank index .FTATBNK tumbling 63 percent in the three sessions since Monday’s open.
Greek media has reported that up to 10 billion euros of a first tranche of bailout aid — assuming one is agreed — could be channeled to the banks.
Editing by Jeremy Gaunt and Gareth Jones