ATHENS: Greece and its creditors on Monday (Tuesday in Manila) began a first review of the country’s new bailout amid a wave of demonstrations by farmers and professionals against a controversial pension reform that is part of the fiscal overhaul.
Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos’s office said the first phase of talks with the senior EU-IMF representatives would be held until the end of the week.
“The negotiation . . . will be held in two phases. The first will last a few days, as there will be a break at the end of this week,” the finance minister’s office said.
Headlining the agenda is the pension reform which the leftist government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has in the works to reduce state spending on retirement schemes, which is the highest in the European Union.
The government plans to lower the maximum pension to 2,300 euros ($2,500) a month from 2,700 euros currently and introduce a new minimum guaranteed basic pension of 384 euros.
It also wants to merge pension funds and increase social security contributions by both employers and staff.
The plan has been criticized by a wide array of professional classes, from lawyers and engineers to sailors and farmers, and Greek unions have called a general strike—the third in as many months—on Thursday.
Separately, the farmers have formed protest hubs at dozens of locations on Greece’s national highways, intermittently blocking traffic with tractors in recent days.
On Monday, they moved to block traffic into Bulgaria for several hours, causing long queues to form at the border.
Greece must save 1.8 billion euros from state spending on pensions under a three-year bailout signed with the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund in July.
During their stay the creditor mission chiefs will also discuss the non-performing loans burdening Greek banks.
Greece hopes to conclude the review by early April in order to proceed with talks with its creditors on renegotiating its enormous public debt—nearly 200 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
“The timely conclusion of the first review will pave the way to solving the Gordian Knot of the debt issue,” Tsipras said on Monday.
“The sooner the evaluation of the Greek program is completed, the sooner we will tackle the viability of the debt,” French Finance Minister Michel Sapin told Kathimerini daily on Sunday.