Finance ministers hold emergency talks on Greece

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European finance ministers will meet in Brussels later Wednesday to discuss debt-strapped Greece, but Germany’s finance minister has signaled that any potential new pact will not be hastily arranged and could take some time.

Finance chiefs from the 19-nation eurozone are convening ahead of an EU leaders’ summit in Belgium on Thursday. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has said there is “no way back” for his radical new government in its quest to rewrite the country’s bailout commitments.

That has put him on a collision course with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble — Germany is the biggest European contributor to Greece’s $270 billion in rescue loans — who said negotiations would be dead if Athens pulls out of the current bailout program. Schaeuble said in Istanbul on Tuesday where he was appearing for a Group of 20 meeting that there was no chance of reaching a final deal in Brussels on Wednesday.

The severe austerity measures insisted on by Greece’s lenders have contributed to a crippling economic situation, with unemployment levels at 25%. The country’s citizens have also been battered by five years of income cuts and tax hikes.
Tsipras said Greece is seeking a new deal with its bailout creditors that would not condemn citizens “to a lifetime of misery.”

Greece is pushing for a transitional agreement for continued support from its creditors who include the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, but no new loans until a deal can be crafted, possibly in 6 months.

Without an extension or restructuring of its debt, Greece is in danger of going bankrupt and may even be forced out of the eurozone. Its loans expire on Feb. 28.

The Athens Stock Exchange declined 3.5% on Wednesday. The benchmark has traded with extreme volatility in recent weeks.

“How much of the bailout deal do we accept? Zero percent. What percentage of the (cost-cutting) measures do we accept? About 30% of that agreement is toxic and we reject it,” Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said. “If you are not willing to even contemplate a rift, then you are not negotiating.”

Finance ministers convene again next Monday in Brussels, hoping to find a breakthrough at that stage.

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