By Sarah Morris and Lefteris Papadimas
Eurozone countries are discussing a third bailout for Greece worth 30 billion to 50 billion euros, Spain’s economy minister said on Monday, as Athens sought to quell fears it might run out of money before the end of March.
Speaking at an event in Pamplona, in northern Spain, Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said the new rescue plan would set more flexible conditions for Greece, which had no alternative other than European support.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras used a televised address on Friday to deny his country would need another international programme.
“Some have bet on a third bailout, on the possibility of a third bailout in June. I’m very sorry but once again we will disappoint them,” Tsipras said.
Euro zone officials involved in preparation for euro zone finance ministers’ meetings were nonplussed by De Guindos’s remarks.
“A third bailout is news to me,” one senior official told Reuters.
Greece has acute and immediate funding problems to overcome, despite the four-month extension to its existing bailout it negotiated with the eurozone last month. To win that, Tsipras had to give up on key pledges made during his election campaign.
The extension averted an imminent banking meltdown. But Greece still faces a steep decline in revenues and is expected to run out of cash by the end of March, possibly sooner.
The new government in Athens sought to assure it can cover its funding needs this month, including repaying a 1.5 billion- euro loan to the International Monetary Fund.
“The Greek government has been exploring solutions … to ensure there won’t be a single problem with repaying the IMF loan, or its funding obligations in March,” government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis told Greek radio.
Most of its options appear to have been shut off, for now at least.
A request for 1.9 billion euros in profits the European Central Bank made on buying Greek bonds will not be granted until Greece has completed promised reforms.
Athens has also sought permission to issue more short-term treasury bills, having reached a cap of 15 billion euros set by its lenders. The euro zone has made clear it does not want to see that limit lifted.
Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who chairs the group of euro zone finance ministers with whom Greece must negotiate, offered a potential escape route.
He told the Financial Times that Greece’s international creditors could pay part of the 7.2 billion euros remaining in its bailout pot as early as this month if Athens started enacting necessary reforms.
“There are elements that you can start doing today. If you do that, then somewhere in March, maybe there can be a first disbursement. But that would require progress and not just intentions,” Dijsselbloem was quoted as saying.
Greece is due to receive the 7.2 billion in remaining EU/IMF bailout funds if it successfully completes the programme. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said last week no further aid would be paid out until Athens fulfilled all the conditions.
Berlin has also ruled out any debt write-down.
Longer-term, EU officials say Greece — shut out of the bond market and unable to borrow — will inevitably need a third support programme to buy time to get back on its feet.
Having negotiated a bailout extension and backed off major campaign pledges such as ending austerity and renegotiating its debt pile, markets are confident Greece will not bomb out of the euro zone.
But diplomats talk of a lack of patience with the mixed messages coming from the new government about its economic reform intentions and its finger pointing at European partners.
The European Commission said it was seeking to maintain EU unity after Tsipras accused Spain and Portugal of conspiring against it, triggering complaints from Madrid and Lisbon.
Tsipras accused Madrid and Lisbon of leading a conservative conspiracy to topple his anti-austerity government because they feared the rise of the left in their own countries.
“By European standards, this was very unusual foul play. We don’t do that in the Eurogroup, that’s not appropriate,” a spokesman for Schaeuble told a news conference in Berlin.
Countries that had to implement their own reforms in return for outside help, such as Ireland, Portugal and Spain, have joined Germany in arguing Greece should not get preferential treatment.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Greece needed to give more details on the reforms it promised in return for the extension of its aid programme.