Eurogroup to hold emergency Greece meeting Wednesday

Brussels (AFP) - Eurozone finance ministers will hold an extraordinary meeting in Brussels on Wednesday to map out a solution to the debt stand-off with Greece's new anti-austerity government before its bailout expires at the end of the month, the EU said.

The meeting, a day before a full EU summit, will be the first chance for new Greek Finance Minister Yaris Varoufakis to formally set out to sceptical colleagues the anti-austerity government's demands for a reduction in Greece's debt.

The EU portion of Greece's 240-billion-euro ($275-billion) EU-IMF bailout is due to expire on February 28, leaving just weeks for Athens and Brussels to reach a compromise or risk seeking Greece crash out of the euro.

"Extra Eurogroup on Greece on Wednesday 11 Feb," Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who heads the Eurogroup of finance ministers from the 19 countries that use the single currency, said on Twitter.

"Before then, we expect the Greek government will make a proposal on how things should move forward," said Martin Jaeger, the spokesman for German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.

An EU statement later added: "The ministers will exchange views on the way forward following the appointment of the new Greek government and considering that ... financial assistance to Greece expires at the end of February 2015."

Leaders of the 28 European Union nations, including new Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, will meet in Brussels the following day for a summit that is officially meant to focus on terrorism and Ukraine but will likely have to tackle Greece.

A European source said no major decision was expected at the meeting and that any breakthrough could take weeks or months.

"The idea behind the meeting is to slightly reduce the pressure and allow leaders to avoid wading into the details at the summit," the source added.

Dijsselbloem had a notably chilly encounter with Varoufakis -- the "rock star" former economics professor who has caused a stir with his casual dress and radical plans -- in Athens on January 31.

Tsipras and Varoufakis, whose radical left Syriza party stormed to victory in elections on January 25, have gone on a tour of major European capitals this week to build support for a renegotiation of the country's bailout.

Varoufakis received a particularly chilly reception in Berlin where Schaeuble expressed deep scepticism over Syriza's plans to reduce its debt.

A further Eurogroup is already scheduled for February 16.

In December, the ministers agreed to extend Greece's bailout by two months from the end of 2014, pending a final inspection of its reform programme in February.

Without the final sign-off, Greece will not get the last 1.8 billion euro loan instalment, leaving it at risk of a default.

An EU source told AFP that there was "room for manouvre" between Greece and its European creditors, but that it was too early to talk about the country's debt load.

The source added however: "Any steps that would imply direct losses to other EU member states would clearly be a red line."

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