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Greece 'needs more progress'

The eurozone's top official has said Greece needs to make "significantly more progress" on reform plans if it is to get its hands on vital bailout loans.

Speaking in the Latvian capital of Riga at the conclusion of a meeting of the eurozone's 19 finance ministers, Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem said time is running out for Greece to secure the money to help it avoid bankruptcy.

Greece has to present a series of reforms that win the backing of its euro partners to get the 7.2 billion euros (£5.1 billion) available in its bailout fund. No deal has been found despite weeks of talks.

Mr Dijsellbloem said there are still "wide differences" between the two sides.

He said earlier that it was particularly important for Athens that a deal is secured soon so the country can get the financial support "to make sure there's enough money available to keep the government running".

Greece had a target of the end of April to agree to more reforms in exchange for rescue money its creditors had set aside. Without the money, Greece faces potential bankruptcy.

Mr Dijsselbloem noted that "April isn't over yet" but said the deadline was far more important for Athens than the Eurogroup.

For weeks, the meeting in Riga was expected to be the one where Greece's immediate financial future would be sorted out.

Its left-wing government, elected in January on a mandate to bring crippling austerity to an end, was expected to present its reform plans to its creditors in the eurozone.

Mr Dijsellbloem ruled out suggestions that the creditors might consider a half-way deal that could give Greece part of the 7.2 billion euros.

Pierre Moscovici, the European Union's senior financial official, said some progress has been made but that the two sides are a way off a deal.

"Intensive efforts must be sped up," he said.

Mr Dijsselbloem admitted the talks with Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis were tough.

The Eurogroup leader said there were still "wide differences" between the two sides, without specifying where the problems lay.

Mr Varoufakis conceded there were differences that still needed to be bridged but insisted that a deal "will happen and will happen quickly as it's the only option we have".

He also sought to counter claims that talks had not advanced. He said there had been a lot of progress on issues such as privatisation, reform of the tax system, the judiciary, the bureaucracy and product markets.

"We look at the last few weeks and what we see is convergence," he said.

Mr Varoufakis said the main sticking points related to pensions and the budget surplus Athens has to post after debt and interest payments are stripped out.

"This is a European family that needs to work out its difference in a collegiate manner," he said.


From Belfast Telegraph