ATHENS (AFP) – A critical audit of Greek finances to enable the debt-hit eurozone country to access a badly-needed slice of EU-IMF funds will conclude this week, the Greek finance minister said on Monday.
"We are concluding the negotiations and I hope they will be finished ... by Wednesday," Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou told Antenna TV.
The talks with auditors from the EU, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank -- the 'troika' of creditors that bailed out Greece last year -- have dragged into an unprecedented fourth week and Athens' ongoing debt woes are causing friction in European capitals and market concern.
A German finance ministry source said the findings would be handed over "probably at the end of the week."
The head policymaker of eurozone finance ministers, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, said Monday he was "rather optimistic" on the outcome of the Greek debt puzzle, adding that European leaders would work on a solution by the end of June.
"We will try to resolve the Greek problem by the end of the month of June," he told reporters after a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris.
European heads of state are to hold a summit on June 23-24 in Brussels with Greece expected to be high on the agenda. There have also been reports that eurozone finance ministers will meet on the issue earlier in the month.
Greece has warned that it needs the next EU-IMF loan injection of 12 billion euros ($17 billion) to pay its bills or it will run out of money in July.
But some of Athens' eurozone peers have expressed reluctance to extend fresh funds and the IMF has warned that it too could withhold its share of the May 2010 110-billion-euro bailout if the country cannot find financing from other sources.
Prime Minister George Papandreou has struggled to build a broader consensus around the unpopular austerity measures which he insists are necessary to save the country.
Papaconstantinou disclosed on Monday that the prime minister had offered to cooperate with the opposition conservatives to "jointly negotiate" with the EU and IMF and agree on the appointment of experts to help reduce the deficit.
But the conservatives, who were in power until 2009 and are blamed by many for the debt problem in the first place, have refused to work with the government.
However, the talks with the troika would conclude "favourably" and Greece will receive the loan instalment, the minister said.
Despite Greece's assurances, doubts over on even more unpopular measures needed to stabilise its finances have been growing in recent weeks alongside fears that some kind of debt restructuring or rescheduling will be necessary.
Thousands of people have occupied central Syntagma Square in Athens since last week in a peaceful protest against the government's austerity policies.
With interest rates demanded by investors to lend to Greece still painfully high, Athens will likely fail to return to the markets next year to finance debt coming due and may need a second bailout of up to 60 billion euros.
Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager on Saturday warned that his country would refuse additional disbursement under the current bailout, as would Germany and Finland, if Greece cannot meet the IMF's terms.
On Monday, Slovak Prime Minister Iveta Radicova said Greece's 350-billion-euro debt should be restructured, a notion dismissed by Belgium's finance minister, who called for a joint eurozone bond instead to help Athens overcome its crisis.
Greece has been pressed to deliver on a huge privatisation drive of state assets designed to bring in some 50 billion euros in debt relief but the country's powerful unions have pledged to oppose the initiative.