ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece’s international lenders on Friday delayed a crucial visit to the debt-laden country next week, and European finance ministers demanded that Athens fulfill its pledges to win further aid.
Officials from the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank, known as the troika, were expected to return to Athens on Monday after cutting short an inspection visit earlier this month to give Greece time to come up with measures to fill a budget gap.
But the Finance Ministry said on Friday the top troika officials would instead hold a conference call with Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos.
“For technical reasons all three officials cannot be present in Athens on Monday. They will arrive later in the week,” the official told Reuters. “The teleconference will take place on Monday so that we don’t waste time.”
At stake is an 8 billion euro loan tranche needed to keep Greece afloat as it struggles to cut its budget deficit in exchange for a 110 billion euro bailout agreed last year.
In a news conference on Friday after finance ministers met in Poland to discuss the specifics of the crisis, Eurogroup chairman Jean-Claude Juncker and the European commissioner for monetary affairs, Olli Rehn, said Greece needed to stick rigidly to the commitments it has made.
The inspectors interrupted their visit this month after disagreements over why Greece was behind schedule in a series of reforms and fiscal measures, including cutting civil servants’ pay, speeding up privatizations and opening up the labor market.
Greece has vowed repeatedly to do whatever it takes to stave off bankruptcy, but the government is struggling to convince an angry public and the unions that the hugely unpopular measures will pay off.
On Friday, ADEDY, the country’s biggest public sector union which represents about half a million workers, called for mass walkouts in October against the government’s belt-tightening.
Last week more than 20,000 demonstrators took to the streets in the northern city of Thessaloniki as Prime Minister George Papandreou announced a new tax on real estate to plug immediate budget holes.
Greece has been dogged by fiscal slippages since an upward revision of its budget deficit in 2009 exposed the scale of the its fiscal derailment and sparked the euro zone debt crisis.
On Friday, it said it would revamp the board of its statistics agency ELSTAT after two members resigned and another was quoted as alleging that the 2009 deficit data had been artificially inflated.
(Additional reporting by Lefteris Papadimas, Renee Maltezou and George Georgiopoulos; Editing by Hugh Lawson and James Dalgleish)
Corrects attribution of delay to finance ministry from lenders, fixes headline