Greece allows lenders back as PM tries to win allies

Fiachra Gibbons, John Hadoulis
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Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras delivers a speech during his visit to the OECD headquarters in Paris, on March 12, 2015

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras delivers a speech during his visit to the OECD headquarters in Paris, on March 12, 2015 (AFP Photo/Eric Feferberg)

Athens (AFP) - Greece's creditors returned to Athens Thursday for the first time since the left-wing Syriza party came to power, with the radical new government denying it had allowed back the hated "troika" it had vowed to shun.

Athens -- which has been scrabbling for cash to meet its next major debt repayments -- insisted it had not been strong-armed into submission.

It said the technical experts sent by the creditors were merely junior officials and should not to be compared with the "troika" team of auditors that Syriza had accused of storming into ministries like colonial "invaders".

The compromise came as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras flew to Paris and Brussels to try to win Greece allies.

Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis described the officials as a "fact-finding mission" that would gather data to assist the main thrust of talks between Greece and its main creditors, the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

He said the officials would not visit ministries but would remain in their hotels, and documents could be delivered to them there.

Varoufakis also said the experts, who will help draw up a new economic plan for the troubled eurozone nation, will report to the new "Brussels Group", which is made up of the old troika plus the European Stability Mechanism.

The first visit by the creditors' representatives since elections were called in December came after six weeks of difficult discussions -- and sometimes ugly clashes -- with the radical new Greek government that came to power promising to tear up the country's austerity-driven bailout.


- 'OECD-backed reforms' -


Its aggressive stance quickly alienated Greece's creditors, who want the new regime to respect the terms of the 240-billion-euro ($255-billion) bailout signed by its predecessors.

With many promised reforms still incomplete, and the new government freezing a number of key privatisation projects, Athens has received no money from the remaining bailout funds, and the state is now desperate for cash.

But Tsipras, speaking after meeting OECD secretary-general Angel Gurria in Paris, said even if Athens misses out on a bailout instalment, "Greece will be able to face its financial responsiblities".

Experts at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have been working with the Greek government over the past month on a new package of reforms.

Tsipras said he hoped the "OECD will co-sign the reforms we want to promote and that will be our passport to creating trust" among its partners in Brussels, while admitting that they may "not believe that Greece wants to move ahead with reform".

Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem expressed his exasperation with Greece on Monday for "wasting precious time". But OECD chief Gurria seemed to try to calm the row saying the Greek government had only been in power "for days".

Tsipras will hope to win more allies on Friday when he meets EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and European Parliament president Martin Schulz in Brussels.

This month alone, Athens must find some 6.0 billion euros to meet its debts -- including 1.5 billion euros to the IMF.


- 'We will pay' -


Varoufakis however insisted that Greece would be able to pay.

He said the creditors and Greece "have taken measures" and would agree to address what he called "a relatively small cashflow problem".

Some relief came on Thursday, when the ECB raised the level of its emergency loan assistance to Greek banks by 600 million euros a day after Athens raised 1.3 billion euros in a new issue of three-month treasury bills.

But there were persistent reports that the government was turning to its pension funds and EU farm subsidies for emergency cash to pay public sector salaries.

With Berlin as ever taking a tough line, Greece this week ramped up pressure on Germany to compensate victims of Nazi wartime atrocities and repay a forced loan by threatening to seize German assets.

"A debt must be a debt and a debt everywhere... especially those which are weighed down by historical significance," Varoufakis said in a France24 interview.

"Unless of course, we all decide that debts can be forgiven and can be restructured," he added.

And in a new nadir in relations, Athens officially complained to Berlin over Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble making disparaging remarks about Varoufakis.

Schaeuble had expressed amazement earlier this week about Varoufakis' "naive" belief that he could expect understanding from international media.

He said at a press conference in Brussels Tuesday that he told his Greek opposite number, with whom he has a strained relationship, that in "communication you looked to us stronger than in substance".