Euro zone leaders are weighing a plan to allow Greece to exit its four-year-old bailout at the end of the year by converting nearly €11 billion of unused rescue funds into a backstop for Athens for when it raises cash from the markets on its own.
The plan, which will be discussed at a meeting of euro zone finance ministers in Brussels on Thursday,would allow Antonis Samaras, Greek prime minister, to declare an end to the quarterly reviews by the hated "troika" of bailout monitors ahead of parliamentary elections, which could come as early as March.
At the same time,backers of the plan believe it would give financial markets the security of knowing Athens could draw on the credit line in an emergency.
The credit line would come from the euro zone's €500 billion rescue fund, meaning it would still require monitoring from Brussels, albeit less onerous than at present. By tapping €11 billion originally earmarked for shoring up by Greek banks, euro zone officials hope to avoid political resistance from Germany.
"In political terms, the money has already been made available to the Greek authorities," said an EU official involved in the negotiations.
Mr Samaras's hopes of a "clean exit" from Greece's €172 billion second bailout –which would mean no line of credit or additional outside monitoring – were dashed last month when Greek bonds were sold off in a mini-panic after he announced his intention to finish the bailout at the end of the year without any follow-on program.
"A completely clean exit is highly unlikely," said the EU official.
Greek officials are scrambling to finalize the remaining required economic reforms so they can agree the exit plan by December. Gikas Hardouvelis, the Greek finance minister,is expected to request the €11 billion credit line at Thursday's meeting. Greece is looking to raise €6 billion-€9 billion on its own for next year, a senior Greek government official said.