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EU eyes start of Greek reforms review January 18: officials

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European creditors have penciled in Jan. 18 as the start of a review of reforms agreed under Greece’s latest bailout and aim to finish it in February, opening the door to talks on debt relief, euro zone officials said on Friday.

People stand in front of the Bank of Greece headquarters during a student parade in Athens, Greece, October 28, 2015. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

“The first review mission is tentatively to start in the week beginning on Jan 18th. In practice, it might probably be a bit later,” one senior official said.

A Commission spokesperson confirmed the EU executive expected the review mission to start later in January, but not the exact date.

The formal review, the first since the euro zone and Greece agreed on a third bailout package in August, is to include controversial reforms like changes to Greece’s pension system, a plan for which Athens sent to Brussels this week.

Euro zone officials said the broad outline of the Greek pension reform was acceptable, but it was still unclear if the measures would bring the desired fiscal effect.

For European creditors, one of the key aims of the reform is to increase incentives for Greeks to work longer.

“We don’t have a problem with the broad architecture of the reform. But does it add up? We need to get more numbers and technical data from Athens to be able to tell,” a second official said.

The official said that while there was no real urgency to closing the reform review, a pre-requisite for further loan disbursements and for the start of promised talks on debt relief, Greece’s liquidity situation was tightening.

Greece will have to pay around 1.4 billion euros in interest in February, around 470 million of which would be on loans from the euro zone bailout fund EFSF and the rest on other bonds, a third official said.

The country’s government also owes around 7 billion euros to various companies in unpaid invoices, putting some on the edge of bankruptcy.

Greek Finance Minister Euclides Tsakalotos is touring European capitals this and next week to discuss the first review and possibly also the role the International Monetary Fund is to play in the latest, third bailout, officials said.

Tsakalotos met Italian Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan on Friday in Rome to discuss the timetable for completion of the first review, a Greek finance ministry official said.

They also discussed debt reprofiling, the fiscal impact of the migration crisis, the pension reform bill and how to “maintain social cohesion”, the Greek official said.

Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Additional reporting by Karolina Tagaris in Athens; Editing by Catherine Evans