By Pan Pylas
BRUSSELS — Greece and its creditors in the 19-country eurozone took visible, if modest, steps Thursday to bridge their differences over Athens’ demands to lighten the load of its bailout, but an imminent deal appears still to be some way off.
Following weeks of haggling, the two sides made a series of encouraging noises at a summit of European Union leaders and even agreed to start technical discussions to inform a meeting of the eurozone’s finance ministers Monday. Investors are hopeful that a deal will be reached to avoid Greece’s exit from the euro — Greece’s main stock market closed about 6.7 percent higher Thursday.
“Europe always has been geared towards finding compromises,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “Compromises are agreed when the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Germany is ready for this.”
Merkel has faced a barrage of criticism in Greece for being the key cheerleader of the austerity policies that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras wants to consign to history. The Greek leader came to power last month on a promise to scrap the country’s bailout in favor of a new, lighter program. Despite the tensions surrounding their meeting, the two leaders exchanged warm greetings, holding each other by their elbows, and chatting amiably, if briefly.
Tsipras expressed his hope that a “mutually acceptable” debt deal can be secured next week at the eurogroup meeting and spoke in language that would likely cheer many of the skeptics in the eurozone.
“The Greek delegation will take part in these meetings with crystal clear proposals and we will try and convince, not blackmail, our partners about our proposals,” he said. “Our program will respect European rules …. we will keep balanced budget, respect the fiscal rules of the EU. We don’t want to go back to era of deficits.”
Tsipras also said his government will propose a set of reforms particularly dealing with the “shortcomings of the Greek state” such as corruption and tax evasion.
“The spirit that prevails in the European Union is a spirit of compromise to the benefit of all the parties,” he said.
The Greek government has said it won’t extend the current bailout program and wants to negotiate a new bridge program that will tide Greece over the coming months and prevent a damage ing exit from the euro. Tsipras and his left-wing party blame the current policies of budget austerity for Greece’s economy.