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What's holding up a deal on Greece's bailout

Published:Friday | June 12, 2015 | 6:00 AM

International creditors sent Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras home from a summit Thursday with a clear message: swiftly tone down your demands in the bailout talks over the next week or face financial ruin.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) took the toughest stance, saying it was bringing its negotiators back to Washington as there had been no sign of compromise.

"There has been no progress in narrowing these differences," IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said Thursday. "There are major differences between us in most key areas."

The creditors - the IMF and Greece's fellow eurozone states - want the country to commit to new economic reforms before they pay out another €7.2 billion (US$8.2 billion). Athens needs the money to repay debts worth €1.6 billion at the end of the month and later this summer.

The ball is in Greece's court, its creditors say.

But this is not tennis, unless you can imagine a match between argumentative snails, coached by committee, without an umpire.

After four and a half months of back and forth, Greece and its creditors remain far from a deal on what reforms the country must make to get more rescue loans. It needs the money to avoid defaulting on its debts and save itself from an even nastier mess, like falling out of the euro.

The left-led government in Athens started off boldly in January, making promises to Greeks to make life easy again by rolling back cuts and reforms.

On the other hand, the creditors - fellow Eurozone states and International Monetary Fund - are little inclined to budge from the policies they have pushed on Greece for five years: heavy cuts that have succeeded in taming government spending but otherwise mauled the economy and society.

Here are the main points the sides are locked over.

PENSIONS

Creditors want cuts worth €1.8 billion (US$2 billion) to pensions this year. They also want Greece to end state financing now for auxiliary pensions - a top-up to pensions that many Greeks receive.

Greece refuses both measures.

Creditors also want to immediately make it more difficult to qualify for early retirement, whereas the government in Athens is offering a staggered increase in the required age and other measures to make early retirement less generous.

SALES TAX

There are currently three rates of tax on the sale of goods: 6.5 per cent, 13 per cent and 23 per cent. Creditors want two rates, 11 per cent and 23 per cent, which would automatically hike the cost of most food, medicine, electricity bills and - in a tourism-reliant economy - hotels and restaurants.

Greece is proposing rates of 6.5 per cent, 12 per cent and 23 per cent, with key consumer staples, hotels and restaurants in the low and middle brackets.

LABOUR MARKET

The Greek government wants to restore the minimum wage from around €580 (US$654) monthly to €750 (US$846) by the end of next year - it had initially promised to do that promptly after its election - and reintroduce collective wage negotiating. Creditors reject that.

BUDGET

Creditors want primary budget surpluses - which exclude interest payments on debt - of one per cent two per cent and three per cent of GDP for 2015, 2016 and 2017, respectively.

The government is offering 0.75 per cent, 1.75 per cent and 2.0 per cent of GDP. Because the country is back in recession and GDP is shrinking, any surplus will require substantial belt-tightening.

DEBT

The elephant in the room, for creditors, seems to be Greece's bloated debt, a daunting €317 billion (US$358 billion), or 176 per cent of the country's annual economic output.

Tsipras' government insists it would not sign an agreement unless it contains some provision on debt relief. Creditors promised last year to discuss the issue, but never did. None of the recent proposals leaked from the creditors mention debt relief.

RED TAPE

Both sides agree to a certain degree on opening up closed professions and markets, for example, by allowing supermarkets to sell non-prescription medicines that only pharmacies currently sell.

They also agree on cracking down on tax evasion, selling state assets and making the justice system more efficient.

- AP