First Greek reform review likely done in February - EU official

Fire caused by petrol bombs thrown by youths is seen at the building of Greece's central bank following brief clashes between police and protesters during a 24-hour general strike in central Athens, Greece November 12, 2015. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Greece and its euro zone creditors are likely to conclude their first review of Greek reforms in February, paving the way for discussions on debt relief for Athens, an EU official said on Thursday.

Greece wants debt relief to help manage its mountain of public debt, equivalent to 180 percent of its annual economic output. Its euro zone creditors believe forgiving it part of its debt is not necessary as Athens already pays very low interest and has had its repayment periods stretched out.

“There is a good possibility that we see a conclusion (of the first review) in February,” an EU official said, acknowledging however that “robust discussions” remain ahead, including on pension reforms, fiscal issues and the taxation of farmers.

“It is fairly safe to say, given the Christmas break, that I don’t expect a total conclusion of that in January. But February seems like a good guess for finalising it,” the official added.

Discussions on Greece’s debt relief are expected to start at the end of the first review in parallel with talks on the participation of the International Monetary Fund in the third Greek aid programme.

“At the end of the first review all these questions come together: finalisation of the first review, inclusion of the IMF, therefore agreement on the necessary reform measures and then the discussions about the debt-related issues,” the official said.

Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Hugh Lawson