Greece signals slower bailout exit as talks with creditors resume in Paris

PARIS – Greece resumed negotiations in Paris with bailout inspectors on Tuesday, as officials in Athens said the country would seek a more gradual exit from the massive rescue program than previously hoped.

Greek Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis started the weeks-delayed talks with representatives from the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.

The two sides are trying to overcome differences over a feared budget shortfall next year and the future of painful cost-cutting reforms.

Since coming to the brink of bankruptcy and losing market access in 2010, Greece has survived on bailout programs worth 240 billion euros ($300 billion) and requiring harsh austerity measures.

Bailout loans from the eurozone end this year, and Greece’s conservative coalition government had hoped for a clean break from austerity — an idea that markets reacted badly to.

In Athens, government spokeswoman Sofia Voultepsi said Greece is prepared to accept a looser backup arrangement with creditors.

“We have said that these final negotiations would be the hardest,” she told private Real FM radio. “After the new year, we are moving from a mandatory borrowing phase to a precautionary credit line that must be worked out.”

Greece’s parliament has begun debating a 2015 budget that predicts 2.9 per cent economic growth next year following a six-year recession, and a near-zero budget deficit.

The debt inspectors find those forecasts too optimistic.