ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Greece will have to ask for an extension of its current bailout to give itself and the euro zone time to hammer out a new agreement, as there is no specific plan for Athens now, the EU’s economics commissioner said on Tuesday.
Pierre Moscovici said euro zone ministers would listen to Greece’s views at a meeting on Wednesday and tell Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis what they thought of them. But a deal to extend the bailout would have to be reached by Feb. 16 if talks were to continue.
“There is no specific plan on the table. Tomorrow the Eurogroup in Brussels is an opportunity for Greece to present its views,” Moscovici told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of finance ministers and central bankers from the world’s top 20 economies in Turkey.
Greece does not want to ask for an extension of the bailout, even by a few months, because the new Greek government won power in a Jan. 25 election on a promise to end the 240 billion euro ($271 billion) program and the fiscal consolidation and austerity reforms that came with it.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has repeatedly said he will not seek an extension, leaving little common ground with the euro zone, which does not want to move forward without it.
“They (Greece) know the program is our reference and framework. We have to see what kind of solutions we can decide inside this framework, not outside it,” Moscovici said.
Greece would have to agree to extend the bailout and apply for it by the next meeting of euro zone finance ministers on Feb. 16, he said, because otherwise there would not be enough time for parliaments in some euro zone countries to approve the extension before the program expires on Feb. 28.
“There is a meeting on Feb. 16 which is of high importance and could be decisive,” Moscovici said. “From tomorrow to Feb. 16 it will take a lot of work and good faith to reach an agreement.”
Without the program extension, euro zone officials have said Greece could not get any money from the group. It has already been cut off from the markets because of a leap in its bond yields.
The officials say it would also be ineligible for talks on more time for debt repayment, or to get profits that the European Central Bank will have made on Greek bonds that it bought in recent years. Nor would Greek banks be able to refinance themselves via the ECB without the extension.
Moscovici said that while it was reasonable to expect a change in policies by the new Greek government to reflect the will of their voters, it was also necessary for Athens to respect its commitments under the existing bailout program.
He said there was no discussion of Greece leaving the single currency area, the risk that the markets have dubbed ‘Grexit’.
“Grexit is not a scenario. There is no plan B. Everybody wants Greece in the euro zone,” he said.
($1 = 0.8842 euros)
Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Mark Trevelyan