Greece's "creative ambiguity" won extra lifeline, says finance minister

ATHENS, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Greece used “creative ambiguity” to win a loan lifeline from its international partners, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said, provoking anger in Germany’s parliament which approved the deal on Friday.

Varoufakis, a hero of the anti-austerity left who has raised hackles among his more orthodox euro zone peers, said Greece had drawn up an economic reform plan that was “full of ambiguities” to fulfil a condition of the Eurogroup’s four-month lifeline.

In a pre-recorded television interview aired on Friday he also appeared to say that Athens had been encouraged by European partners to use this tactic.

“We’re proud of the degree of ambiguity - I’m using a term here, creative ambiguity,” Varoufakis told Antenna TV.

Varoufakis said in one “particular discussion” at a euro zone finance ministers’ meeting in Brussels this month he had been encouraged to keep the language of his country’s promises vague.

“They asked for it. They’re saying ‘for us to pass it in our parliaments, our institutions, it’s better to leave it vague’,” he said, adding that he agreed with such tactics.

Though Varoufakis did not name the government officials in that discussion he hinted at their country, saying: “You know which parliaments in particular it goes to.” Few euro zone parliaments are voting on the issue and the four month extension to Greece’s EU/IMF bailout programme faced its stiffest opposition in the German Bundestag.

“I want to be the first finance minister who doesn’t refer to numbers unless he is certain he can achieve them. I will never refer to a number ... unless I can achieve it,” Varoufakis added.

Greece’s reform pledges were contained in a list sent to the Eurogroup minutes before a deadline on Monday night and which the euro zone finance ministers approved the following day.

That opened the way for the extension of the bailout, which had been due to expire on Saturday, and lifted for now the threat that Greece might go bankrupt and exit the euro zone.

The extension cleared another hurdle when the parliament of Germany, the biggest contributor to Greece’s 240 billion euro EU/IMF bailout, gave its approval.

But a record number of dissenters from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives underscored growing scepticism about whether the new government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras can be trusted to deliver on its promises.

“Look at Tsipras, look at Varoufakis: would you buy a used car from them?” Klaus-Peter Willsch, a dissident lawmaker from Merkel’s conservative party, said in parliament.

Varoufakis also said one of his contentions - that achieving sizeable budget surpluses before debt payments over the next decade would destroy the Greek economy - had got a sympathetic reception in Brussels. “They say: ‘we agree’,” he said.

Separately, in a demonstration of the country’s unorthodox budget planning, a Greek government official said Athens planned to submit a bill to parliament early in March that would reopen state broadcaster ERT which the previous conservative-led coalition closed down.

All ex-employees would be welcome to return to their old jobs if they wanted, but this would not burden the budget, the official said.

Several euro zone finance ministers including Germany’s Wolfgang Schaeuble have expressed doubts about the reform promises, which rely on raising revenue in difficult areas such as tackling tax evasion to fund social spending.

IMF chief Christine Lagarde said the list lacked “clear assurances that the government intends to undertake the reforms envisaged”. (writing by David Stamp; editing by Sophie Walker)