ATHENS (Reuters) - The heads of the international “troika” team discussing Greece’s bailout could leave Athens at the weekend without a final agreement on some 12 billion euros of planned spending cuts, Greek officials said on Thursday.
The European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank team visiting Athens has rejected some of the measures proposed by the Greek government, holding up final agreement on unlocking the next installment of Greece’s 31.5 billion-euro ($41 billion) bailout package.
“We would like to have the package finalized today but it’s difficult,” said a very senior Greek official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“The heads of the troika will leave at the end of this week or early next week. We must have 95 percent of the package of measures agreed by then.”
Another official said the team would leave on Saturday.
The potential delay feeds uncertainty after tense scenes as the troika has ordered Greece go further in cutting wages and pensions as well as ending its taboo on firing civil servants.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s government has insisted that savings on operating expenses will enable Athens to avoid the kind of cuts requested by the troika. Inspectors, wary after repeated failures by Greece to deliver, are skeptical.
Greek officials said the troika team, which returned to Athens this month after a month-long hiatus, had always intended to leave at the end of the week and are due back next week. Technical officials will remain to work on unresolved issues.
The second Greek official said that even if there was no deal by Saturday, that need not mean that the package would be delayed in parliament, which must approve the measures before the Eurogroup of finance ministers meets in Luxembourg on October 8.
Greece has acknowledged that the talks with the troika are “difficult” and officials have said the latest round of discussions on Wednesday were marred by “moments of tension”.
As takeaway food was delivered to officials meeting late into the night, Greek officials said there was agreement on 9.5 billion euros of the 11.7 billion-euro package.
A total of 6.5 billion euros in cuts to wages, pensions and benefit payments had been agreed and a further 1.1 billion euros in savings were planned from an increase in the retirement age, which is expected to be raised to 67 years.
An additional 1.9 billion euros would come in savings from various modernization measures approved by the troika, leaving the two sides still wrangling over some 2 billion euros in proposed savings in health, defense and local government.
Samaras’s fragile conservative-led coalition shows increasing signs of buckling under the strain of finding common ground over measures that no politician wants to be linked to.
A meeting on Thursday between Samaras and his Socialist and leftist allies failed to produce broad political agreement on the cuts, and talks were adjourned until next week.
“The troika should stop attacking Greek people,” Fotis Kouvelis, head of the small Democratic Left party, told reporters after the meeting. “People have their limits.”
The austerity plan - which targets savings over 2013 and 2014 - includes cuts to health and defense spending, a plan for a “labor reserve” to dismiss civil servants, and reductions in welfare and disability benefits.
Anti-austerity protests are picking up pace after the traditional August summer break. On Thursday, subway, city train and tram workers held a 24-hour strike, and major unions plan a general strike next week.
Editing by Ruth Pitchford