Eurogroup to discuss EFSF leveraging, Greek reforms

BRUSSELS Sun Oct 2, 2011 6:11pm EDT

Luxembourg's Prime Minister and Eurogroup chairman Jean-Claude Juncker (1st Row L), Treasury Minister Luc Frieden (1st Row L) and Euro zone finance ministers gather around the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) in Luxembourg June 7, 2010. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

Luxembourg's Prime Minister and Eurogroup chairman Jean-Claude Juncker (1st Row L), Treasury Minister Luc Frieden (1st Row L) and Euro zone finance ministers gather around the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) in Luxembourg June 7, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Eric Vidal

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Euro zone finance ministers will discuss ways to leverage their EFSF bailout fund on Monday and put pressure on Greece to implement agreed structural reforms to try to get its economy growing again, euro zone officials said.

Finance ministers from the 17 countries sharing the euro meet in Luxembourg after Athens acknowledged it would miss fiscal targets set as conditions for continued emergency funding this year from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

Greece said on Sunday that the budget deficit this year would be 8.5 percent of gross domestic product, missing a 7.6 percent target agreed in the bailout that saved it from bankruptcy. It would also miss next year's deficit target in terms of percentage of GDP -- 6.8 percent instead of 6.5 -- but would meet it in nominal terms.

Athens blames its failure to meet EU/IMF deficit targets on the worse-than-forecast contraction of the economy, while its lenders say failure to push through structural reforms is also largely to blame.

"We will be pressing the Greek finance minister to do some more tough talking about the implementation of reforms at home," said one euro zone official involved in the preparation of the meeting.

"Greece would be well advised not only to announce but also to implement reforms," the official said.

To avoid bankruptcy, Greece needs the next, 8 billion euro ($11 billion) tranche of emergency aid from the EU and the International Monetary Fund -- otherwise it could run out of money to pay state wage bills within weeks.

Euro zone ministers will not decide on Monday whether the next tranche should be paid out, leaving that decision to the next meeting on October 13.

Officials expect the next tranche will be paid, because the euro zone will not be ready to cope with the fallout of a Greek default until its bailout fund, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), gets its new powers of market intervention ratified in the next two weeks.

Even then, however, while the 440 billion euro fund will be able to buy government bonds from the market, recapitalize banks and extend precautionary credit to sovereigns, it may not have enough cash to cope with all the financing needs.

Euro zone ministers will therefore also discuss on Monday way to increase the firepower of the fund through leveraging, without increasing guarantees that back the fund's borrowing, but no decision is expected yet.

"The ministers on Monday will come closer to a solution, but not to a conclusion," the euro zone official said.

The leveraging idea, suggested by the United States, has some opponents in the euro zone, who fear it could lead to higher liabilities for euro zone countries above the 780 billion euros in current EFSF guarantees, or downgrades of either the AAA-rated EFSF or its triple-A guarantors.

Officials said only options that would not lead to a downgrade would be examined.

Among the ideas under consideration is allowing the EFSF to refinance itself at the ECB's liquidity operations for banks. The EFSF could also guarantee to cover a percentage of potential losses investors could incur in case of a hypothetical sovereign default.

Any solution, however, should not require another round of ratification, officials said, because policy-makers realized how difficult and lengthy the process was given the growing opposition to bailouts in many euro zone countries.

The ministers will also decide who will replace Juergen Stark on the European Central Bank Executive Board. Stark resigned citing personal reasons although sources said it was mainly over his opposition to the ECB undertaking on the task of buying government bonds.

Ministers will discuss changes to euro zone economic governance, prepared for the October 17 summit of EU leaders by the European Commission, the Eurogroup and the President of the European Council Herman van Rompuy.

(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

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