European leaders pressure Greece to reach new debt deal

European leaders pressured debt-ridden Greece Thursday to reach a new deal to stave off a default on its loans, but the International Monetary Fund said there was “no progress.”

“We need decisions, not negotiations now,” said European Union President Donald Tusk. “And it’s my opinion that the Greek government has to be, I think, a little bit more realistic.”

Tusk said a meeting in Luxembourg next Thursday of finance ministers from the 19 eurozone countries would be “really crucial” in determining whether Greece’s international creditors will unlock an $8 billion bailout segment in time for Athens to meet a $1.8 billion payment due one of its lenders, the International Monetary Fund, at the end of June.

But an IMF spokesman said Greece and its creditors “are well away from an agreement” and that IMF negotiators in Brussels had returned to Washington. The Greek leader, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, acknowledged that differences remain with the country’s creditors.

Tusk, a former Polish premier, said, “There is no more time for gambling. The day is coming, I’m afraid, that someone says the game is over.”

Tsipras met in Brussels Wednesday with French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who lead two of the largest contributors to the Athens bailout.

The German leader said all agreed that Greece “will work emphatically and at full steam” in the coming days with the IMF and its other two lenders, the EU and the European Central Bank, to resolve questions over the scope and pace of Greece’s austerity program agreed to by previous Athens governments.

“As I’ve said repeatedly, each day counts,” Merkel said Thursday. “But my impression of the talks is that there is a readiness to work with the three institutions and that will now be acted upon.”

Meanwhile in Greece, a state television network aired its first broadcast in two years after being shut down amid the austerity measures. News anchors at Greece’s ERT were visibly emotional Thursday as they began their broadcast two years to the day after they had gone off the air and transferred programming to the Internet.

Still a long way to go

The European Commission said Wednesday it is not satisfied with Greece’s latest reform proposals, as Athens tried to persuade European creditors to continue loans needed to avoid default.

EC officials said Wednesday that the Greek proposal offered Tuesday does “not reflect” earlier discussions between Brussels and Athens.

“For this final push, the commission is of the view that the ball is clearly now in the court of the Greek government,” Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters in Brussels.

A short while later, the Standard & Poor’s credit rating agency said without a deal the country likely will default on its commercial debt within a year.  It downgraded Greece’s credit rating one notch further into junk territory.

Details of the new Greek proposals were not disclosed, but some officials said they focused on revised fiscal targets for Greece’s beleaguered government and new ways to generate revenue.

Without a deal, Greece could be forced out of the eurozone, abandoning its use of the common euro currency. Tsipras warned Tuesday that pulling out would be a catastrophe for the monetary union.


(Photo of Tsipras: