Talks Flop But Juncker Wants Greek Bailout Austerity Deal by April 7

Αssociated press

FILE - European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (R) and Greek Premier Alexis Tsipras . (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Even as Greece’s talks with its European lenders over tough terms of a third bailout stopped abruptly, European Commission President Jean-Claude Claude still said he thinks a deal can be reached by April 7.

Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras failed to meet his own deadline of an agreement by March 20 over conditions attached to the 86-billion euro ($92.94 billion) rescue package.

The Troika of the European Union-European Central Bank-European Stability Mechanism wants post-2018 additional pension cuts, taxes put on the poor and stripping workers rights, including mass firings in the private sector to insure European banks get paid back first. Tsipras has spent much of his time criticizing the International Monetary Fund, which took part in two first bailouts of 240 billion euros ($259.38 billion) beginning in 2010 but has stayed out of the third until the Premier agrees to more debilitating measures for workers, pensioners and the poor.

In a statement responding to Tsipras’ criticizing IMF demands for labor reforms, Juncker wouldn’t take a stand while pushing for the deal to come as soon as possible.

In the letter, Tsipras had sought to link Greek support for a declaration marking the EU's 60th birthday in Rome on March 25 to a recognition that the EU legal framework on social issues, known as acquis, also applied to Greece, the news agency Reuters reported. “For me, there is no doubt that the EU social acquis applies to Greece as to any other EU member state,” Juncker said.

“There is no ‘one-size-fit-all’ in the social acquis or in the economic textbook when it comes to organizing collective bargaining. Let me add that there is no place for ideology either,” Juncker said.

The next meeting of Eurozone finance ministers is scheduled in Malta on April 7. “Ideally, we should be in a position to present a staff-level agreement by then and we will continue to support you to that end,” Juncker said, without mentioning that all previous deadlines set by both sides since talks began in July, 2015 have failed.

A staff-level agreement is a technical deal, which would pave the way for a political compromise among ministers to unblock new funds to Athens and which might allow the IMF to consider joining the bailout program.

Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, who stayed on in Brussels after March 20 meet with EU and IMF officials gave up again and came back to Athens. He and Tsipras keep saying significant progress is being made even when it isn’t while blaming the EU and IMF for intransigence.

Meanwhile, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble increased the pressure Tsipras, who has reneged on virtually all his anti-austerity promises, to give in again.

“Greece has said it wants to stay in the euro,” Schaeuble said in an interview on Deutschlandfunk radio on Friday. “Greece can only do that if Greece has a competitive economy. To that end, it needs to carry out reforms, and we’re giving Greece time to do that.” Germany is the biggest contributor to the bailouts that are making a fortune for its country’s banks but has been the harshest taskmaster, insisting on big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings to guarantee a profit.