Greek finance minister, international debt inspectors in negotiations over 2014 budget gap

ATHENS, Greece – Greece’s finance minister met Monday with representatives of the country’s international creditors, part of tough negotiations to resolve a disagreement over 2014 budget cuts and allow the release of further rescue loans.

Yannis Stournaras had talks with officials from the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission.

The delegation is scrutinizing a government forecast that the scheduled bailout loans will be 500 million euros ($670 million) short of the country’s 2014 financing needs. Athens maintains the sum is small enough to make up without resorting to further austerity measures.

After the talks, Stournaras said both sides are hoping for a deal by early next month, when finance ministers from the 17 European countries that use the euro currency are due to hold their next meeting.

“The negotiations are tough, but we are working on the scenario of an agreement by Dec. 9,” he said, voicing optimism that a deal can be struck by then without new salary cuts for state employees.

“We are working 24 hours a day to attain an agreement,” Stournaras said.

Greece has relied on international rescue loans since 2010, under a bailout program worth 240 billion euros ($322 billion). In return, the country has implemented harsh spending cuts and repeatedly raised taxes.

Greece is in the sixth year of a deep recession, and unemployment is at a record high of more than 27 per cent.