(Reuters) – Talks between Greece and euro zone finance ministers over the country’s debt broke down on Monday when Athens rejected a proposal to request a six-month extension of its international bailout as “unacceptable”.
The unexpectedly rapid collapse raised doubts about Greece’s future in the single currency area after a new leftist-led government vowed to scrap the 240 billion euro bailout, reverse austerity policies and end cooperation with EU/IMF inspectors.
Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who chaired the meeting, said Athens had until Friday to request an extension, otherwise the bailout would expire at the end of the month.
How long Greece can keep itself afloat without international support is uncertain. The European Central Bank will decide on Wednesday whether to maintain emergency lending to Greek banks that are bleeding deposits at an estimated rate of 2 billion euros a week.
“The general feeling in the Eurogroup is still that the best way forward would be for the Greek authorities to seek an extension of the programme,” Dijsselbloem told a news conference.
Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis hit back, complaining that Dijsselbloem had refused to discuss a proposal from the executive European Commission that would have given Athens a four-month breathing space in return for the new government holding off on major policy changes.
He sought to play down the setback as a temporary hitch rather than an impasse.
“I have no doubt that within the next 48 hours Europe is going to come together and we shall find the phrasing that is necessary so that we can submit it and move on to do the real work that is necessary,” Varoufakis told a news conference.
Varoufakis said he rebuffed a draft statement put to him by Dijsselbloem as the meeting got under way. In comments that appeared aimed at playing on divisions among European officials, he said he would have signed a text put to him before the meeting by Pierre Moscovici, the EU’s economics commissioner.
The talks, which had been expected to last late into the night, collapsed in less than four hours.
Both sides showed signs of fraying patience, with several ministers complaining of disappoinment and fearing disaster. Dijsselbloem spoke of a need to rebuild trust and Greek officials grumbled that Varoufakis was presented with an unacceptable text as soon as he walked into the room.
Dijsselbloem pleaded with the Greeks to buy themselves time to discuss the way forward calmly by requesting an extension.