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‘Road open’ for Greece debt relief talks

Greece is expected to ask its fellow euro zone countries for debt reduction at Monday's meeting of the region's finance ministers in Brussels, as the country begins to make progress in balancing its books.


Kostas Tsironis | Bloomberg via Getty Images

Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras told reporters at a Greek-Chinese Business Forum that the "road is now open for a discussion on the reduction of Greek debt. During the Eurogroup meeting on May 5, the Greek government will bring the issue to the table for relevant talks to begin."

The country recorded its first primary surplus in a decade – when the Greek government's income exceeded its outgoings – earlier this year and Stournaras hopes this will pave the way for the debt talks to begin.

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According to an agreement dated November 2012, discussions on debt reduction would start once Greece reached a primary surplus. Eurostat numbers that came out in April confirmed that Greece had reached a primary surplus of 0.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) for 2013.

Analysts expect that the Greek finance minister will ask his euro zone counterparts for an extension of debt repayment from 30 to 50 years and lower interest rates on some of its bailout loans.

Greece wrote down part of its debt in 2012, forcing massive losses on private debt-holders. On April 10 this year, for the first time in four years, the country returned to the markets, with a five-year bond issue. The government sold 3 billion euros ($4.14 billion) of debt to private investors at a yield of 4.95 percent.

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Greece has come a long way in improving its economic situation since receiving the first of its two bailout loans worth 240 billion euros in 2010. This year Greece is scheduled to come out of a six-year recession with gross domestic product growth of 0.6 percent, while in two years' time the economy could grow by as much as 3.3 percent, according to the government's economic projections.

Unemployment hit a record high of 28 percent in November last year -- and is still the highest in the euro zone in spite of the upward trend finally reversing in January.

However, Greece's expectations seem to be again more optimistic than its international creditors.

The Greek finance ministry is expecting a 2.3 percent primary surplus for 2014, 1.4 billion euros more than the Commission. The government's mid-term plan, presented to the Greek parliament last week, imposes freezes in civil sector salaries and pensions for five years, but there is no mention of more austerity.

This might come later, according to analysts. "It is hard to see how the primary surplus will rise from 0.8 percent of GDP in 2013 to 4.5 percent in 2016 without any measures", said Miranda Xafa, CEO at CEO at EF Consulting, in an email to CNBC.

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Greece is predicting a 911 million euro funding gap for 2015 in contrast to the Commission's 2 billion euro prediction. The Troika of international lenders will be back in Athens in September to discuss how to cover this. Greece's debt as a proportion of its economic output, is still very high at 175 percent and it is still far from reaching sustainable levels.

Another Greek bond issue of 3 to 6 billion euros is possible before the end of year, according to the government's mid-term plan. This would be a way of funding the 2015 fiscal gap. But there is still some political risk for Greece, as confidence in the coalition will be tested later this month at local elections on May 18, and more importantly the European Parliamentary elections a week later, May 25.

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