Business

Greece bailout money decision looms

Greek protesters
Image caption Greeks continue to protest against the latest round of austerity measures

European Commission, European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) officials are heading for Athens to review Greece's progress in cutting its debt levels.

They hold the key to releasing further bailout money the country badly needs.

On Tuesday, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou hailed his country's "superhuman" efforts to cut its budget.

The review comes amid reports of a split among eurozone members about further support for Greece.

Citing "senior European officials", the Financial Times said a number of the bloc's 17 members want private investors to take a bigger hit in the proposed restructuring of Greece's debts.

Eurozone members are in the process of ratifying proposals put forward in July, one of which would see private lenders writing off about 20% of their loans to Greece.

The proposals also included expanding the powers of the eurozone bailout fund.

Germany will vote on the plan on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the head of the European Commission has stressed that Greece will not leave the eurozone. There has been growing speculation that the country will be forced to default on its debts, with some observers suggesting this would inevitably lead to it exiting the bloc.

However, in his annual State of the Union address in Strasbourg, Jose Manuel Barroso said: "Greece is, and Greece will remain, a member of the euro area."

He did, however, warn that the EU was facing its "greatest challenge".

There has been widespread criticism that leaders are acting too slowly in pushing through measures to address the wider debt crisis.

Jean-Claude Trichet, the head of the ECB, has called on governments to speed up their policy response.

He told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra that leaders needed "to demonstrate their sense of direction", and do so quickly.

Deficit cut

Commission, ECB and IMF officials will decide whether to release about 8bn euros ($11bn; £7bn) from a 110bn bailout package agreed last summer.

Discussions with Greek officials are expected to begin on Thursday.

A key obstacle to the payment was removed on Tuesday when the Greek parliament passed a controversial new property tax bill, first announced earlier this month, that aims to boost revenues.

Image caption Greece's new property tax has proved particularly unpopular

Anyone who does not pay the new tax risks having their power cut off.

The tax is one of a number of austerity measures Athens is introducing, measures that saw Greece's budget deficit fall by more than 5 percentage points in 2010, Mr Papandreou said in a speech to German business leaders on Tuesday.

Speaking in Berlin, he said Greece would fulfil its obligations and hoped to be without a primary deficit from 2012.

He added that it was very important his country gets indications of support from "our European partners".

Renewed hope

There has been renewed optimism this week that eurozone leaders may finally be ready to take decisive action to tackle the debt crisis.

G20 leaders met over the weekend to discuss the best way forward, but EU officials stressed that no grand plan of action had been agreed.

A number of ideas were reportedly discussed, including a 50% write-down of Greece's government debts.

Other proposals included strengthening big European banks that could be hit by any defaults by highly indebted governments, and boosting the size of the eurozone bailout fund.

These helped to boost investor sentiment, with stock markets rising sharply on Tuesday.

The Dow Jones in New York closed up 1.3%, while France's Cac index ended up 5.7%, Germany's Dax 5.3% and the UK's FTSE 4%.

Asian and European markets were largely flat on Wednesday.

However, markets remain highly volatile, with investors remaining sceptical of policymakers' ability to solve the crisis quickly.

"Every time the market gets its hopes up that a solution to the eurozone crisis is near, the rug gets pulled from under it," said Ben Potter at IG Markets.

"Only when we see firm action being taken, rather than hollow promises, will confidence and sentiment begin to improve."