Greek PM Samaras asks Merkel for 'breathing space'

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and German Chancellor Angela Merkel
Image caption Mrs Merkel reiterated that Germany wanted Greece to stay in the eurozone

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has asked German Chancellor Angela Merkel to give his country "breathing space" following a meeting of the two leaders in Berlin.

Mrs Merkel said she would not make "premature judgements" about Greece's progress towards meeting its reform targets in advance of an official report due next month.

She said Germany wanted Greece to remain in the eurozone.

But it had to meet its reform targets.

At a joint news conference, Mr Samaras said: "Greece will stick to its commitments and fulfil its obligations. In fact, this is already happening.

"We're not asking for more money," he said, adding that Greece needed "time to breathe".

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Commission - the group of donor bodies known collectively as the "troika" - are examining whether Greece is making sufficient progress towards reforming its public finances.

Greece's continued access to the bailout packages depends on a favourable report from the trio.

Mrs Merkel and Mr Hollande met on Thursday to discuss Greece and urged Athens to stick with the tough reforms.

Mr Samaras will next travel to France on Saturday for talks with President Francois Hollande.

Volker Kauder, the leader of Mrs Merkel's conservative parliamentary group, told German television that neither the terms nor the content of Greece's rescue deal could be renegotiated and that a Greek exit would be no problem for the euro.

And finance ministry spokesman Martin Kotthaus said a clause in the Greek bailout deal - allowing more time for reform targets in the case of a worse-than-expected recession - was not legally binding.

Euro bailout

Greece is currently trying to finalise a package of 11.5bn euros ($14.4bn; £9.1bn) of spending cuts over the next two years.

It is also being asked to put in place economic and structural reforms, including changes to the labour market and a renewed privatisation drive.

The measures are needed to qualify for the next 33.5bn-euro instalment of its second 130bn-euro bailout.

Greece needs the funds to make repayments on its debt burden. A default could result in the country leaving the euro.

Mr Samaras is seeking an extension of up to two years for the necessary reforms, in order to provide Greece with the growth needed to improve its public finances.

Mrs Merkel has previously said that she and Mr Samaras will not make any decisions on the issue in their talks on Friday.

'Necessary efforts'

Although eurozone chief Jean-Claude Juncker has kept the door open for a change to the bailout terms, Germany and France have warned Athens that it should not expect any leeway unless it sticks to the reform targets.

On Thursday, Mrs Merkel said: "For me, it's important that we all stand by our commitments, and in particular await the [publication of] the troika report, to then see what the result is.

"But I will encourage Greece to follow the path of reform, which demands a lot of the Greek people."

Mr Hollande said he hoped Greece would remain within the eurozone, but added that "of course Greece must make the necessary efforts for this to happen".

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