European leaders have told Greece that it must do more to prove it is pushing through the reforms its creditors have demanded before it can receive a €2bn (£1.4bn) aid payment.
The debt-stricken country has been at odds with its lenders over the protection it can offer families at risk of being made homeless because of mortgage defaults.
Greece clinched an €86bn bailout in the summer, in return for promising measures to reduce its deficit such as higher VAT rates and pension cuts. Its lenders have also demanded new laws to help banks repossess homes from people who cannot meet their loan repayments.
The new sticking point turned the buildup to a key Brussels meeting of eurozone finance ministers on Monday night into a series of tit-for-tat briefings reminiscent of the height of the bailout crisis earlier this year.
Greece’s EU peers continued to lament the pace of economic reform in Athens, while the country’s leftwing government under the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has stood by demands for social safeguards for its citizens. On the contentious repossession rules, it wants more first homes to be exempt.
At stake is the release of Greece’s next tranche of aid from its third bailout. Athens spent the weekend trying to persuade its creditors that it had met the terms agreed this summer to qualify for the much-needed cash. Ahead of the Eurogroup meeting, however, it appeared they were not convinced.
“The €2bn will only be paid out once the institutions give the green light and say that all agreed actions have been carried out and have been implemented. That still has not happened,” the Eurogroup president, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, said as he arrived at the Brussels meeting.
The European economic commissioner, Pierre Moscovici, was slightly more upbeat, expressing hope that a compromise could be reached later this week to unlock the funds from Greece’s third rescue package in five years.
Greece’s economy minister, George Stathakis, appeared to suggest Athens was hoping its lenders would soften their demands, saying ahead of the meeting that eurozone governments might have to take a political decision on whether to release the next aid payment. He said talks with officials over how to enforce foreclosure laws had run their course.
“The thorny issue is the distance that separates us on the issue of protecting primary residences,” he told Real FM radio. “I think the negotiation we conducted with the institutions has closed its cycle … so it’s a political decision which must be taken.”
A Greek government official told reporters after the Eurogroup meeting that it was optimistic a deal would be reached with its lenders by next week.
Analysts said the tensions had echoes of early summer, when Greece appeared to be on the brink of expulsion from the eurozone. A so-called Grexit was averted when the third bailout deal was hammered out, but it was met with scepticism given the scale of reforms demanded of Greece, which come on top of years of austerity, barely any economic growth, and high unemployment.
“This feels like a repeat of eight months ago. The whole world understood that the third bailout agreement made was unsustainable. It was only a matter of time before it unraveled,” said Peter Rosenstreich, the head of market strategy at Swissquote Bank.