In an inauspicious start to talks over awarding Greece a third bailout, international officials have postponed the negotiations after failing to agree with their hosts where they will stay and how they will operate when in Athens.
Mission chiefs representing the troika of creditors – the European commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund – were forced to delay discussions over the €86bn (£61bn) programme after it emerged they had been unable to agree on a secure venue in the capital.
“There are some logistical issues to solve, notably security-wise,” said a European commission official. “Several options are on the table.”
The leftwing government in Athens, which had previously vowed to never let the auditors step foot in Greece again, is understood to be irritated by demands that the creditor team is given free access to ministries and files. Acutely aware of the anger the monitors have triggered in the past, due to the austerity measures attached to previous bailouts, it has insisted the mission heads stay in a hotel outside the Greek capital.
“A lot of trust has been lost and the big issue is who they are going to see, what ministries they are going to be let into, what files are going to be made available,” said Anna Asimakopoulou, a shadow finance minister with the main opposition New Democracy party. “That, of course, will be a big defeat for the government given that negotiations have moved to Brussels for the past six months but that is what they want, due diligence at a deeper level. Holding talks in a hotel is just not practical.”
Symbolically, the inspectors’ return is humiliating for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras who won power in January promising to dismantle the troika.
The European commission wants a deal to be reached on a bailout programme by the second half of August when Greece must honour a €3.4bn debt repayment to the ECB. But with the talks also expected to be extremely tough there are few who believe that deadline will be met. Instead EU officials have signalled the debt-stricken country will likely be given a bridging loan – as it was earlier this week – to avert default. “It is difficult to envisage these negotiations ending before early September at the earliest,” said Asimalopoulou, the shadow finance minister.
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