ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek coalition leaders agreed to meet next week to hammer out almost 12 billion euros worth of austerity cuts demanded by the near-bankrupt country’s lenders after a deal proved elusive at an initial round of talks on Wednesday.
Greek officials have spent the past week scrambling to identify 11.7 billion euros worth of spending cuts for 2013 and 2014 required by the country’s latest rescue package before European and IMF officials visit Athens next week.
But a final decision is expected only after much bargaining among the three party leaders in the new conservative-led government, each of whom is keen to avoid appearing in favor of cuts that heap more misery on austerity-weary voters.
After a three-hour meeting with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, his two coalition allies - Socialist party leader Evangelos Venizelos and leftist party chief Fotis Kouvelis - emerged to give the public the message that the government would not impose any new spending cuts this year beyond those already agreed.
“We had a very good discussion,” Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras told reporters after the meeting. “We agreed on the basic direction.”
Clinching agreement on the unpopular cuts is likely to be Samaras’s first major test since assuming power last month. His government has made a positive first impression on European partners abroad, but has angered critics at home who accuse it of not pushing aggressively enough for changes to the bailout.
Samaras’s government has said it will seek an additional two years to hit fiscal targets included in the bailout, but plans to make the request only after regaining lost credibility by getting its reform programme back on track.
The government must agree the almost 12 billion in cuts to allow the issue of the next tranche of EU and IMF aid, probably in September. EU officials have already indicated they would find the money to see it through August.
Reporting by Harry Papachristou, Renee Maltezou and Lefteris Papadimas, Writing by Deepa Babington; editing by Patrick Graham