There were hopes on Thursday that Greece and the eurozone might be edging toward a deal after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, attending his first European Union summit, agreed for government officials and representatives of the country’s lenders to find common ground ahead of Monday’s Eurogroup.
Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and his eurozone counterparts failed to issue a common statement at a Eurogroup that ended early on Thursday morning. However, Tsipras met on Thursday in Brussels with Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem and agreed that representatives of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund should work on the details of a possible deal in the buildup to the Eurogroup on Monday.
“[We] agreed today to ask the institutions to engage with the Greek authorities to start work on a technical assessment of the common ground between the current program and the Greek government’s plans,” Dijsselbloem tweeted. This, he said, would pave the way for crucial talks between eurozone finance ministers next Monday.
"We leave today having made some significant steps," said Tsipras at a late night press conference following the summit. "The technical teams will work over the next few days to prepare the ground for Monday's Eurogroup."
Tsipras insisted that he did not feel "isolated" at the EU Council and said that he explained to his counterparts that the government wants to combine the mandate it has received with Greece's obligations as an EU member. But he insisted that Athens would not accept the continuation of the Memorandum of Understanding or the troika in its existing role.
"The memorandum as we knew it is over," he said. "The same goes for the troika."
The head of the council of economic advisers, Giorgos Houliarakis, is due to meet on Friday in Brussels with Declan Costello of the European Commission, Klaus Masuch of the ECB and Rishi Goyal of the IMF. The head of the Euro Working Group, Thomas Wieser, will also take part in the meeting.
Greece and its lenders will have to work out which 70 percent of the reforms being demanded by the troika will be adopted and how the implementation of these measures will be carried out.
After speaking to Dijsselbloem, Tsipras also met Merkel for the first time in the EU Council chamber.
According to government sources, Merkel congratulated Tsipras on his election and said, “I hope we will have good cooperation despite the difficulties.” Tsipras smiled back and replied, “I hope so.”
Before the summit began, Merkel commented on the Greek situation.
“Europe always aims to find a compromise, and that is the success of Europe,” she said on arrival in Brussels. “Germany is ready for that. However, it must also be said that Europe’s credibility naturally depends on us respecting rules and being reliable with each other.”
Tsipras’s predecessor, Antonis Samaras, was also in Brussels for a meeting of the European People’s Party, the grouping of conservative parties in the European Parliament. There, Samaras said that his aim is to “safeguard Greece’s European progress.”
Samaras received backing from EPP President Joseph Daul.
“We call on the new government of Greece not to jeopardize the economic progress achieved during the leadership of Antonis Samaras,” Daul said after the meeting.
“The sacrifices made by the people of Greece cannot be put at risk through unilateral behavior. Prime Minister Tsipras has to respect all commitments made by the previous Greek government. Europe is ready to help the people of Greece overcome their economic problems; we call on Prime Minister Tsipras not to be an obstacle in helping the people of Greece.”