Eurogroup head praises Greece for reform efforts

Eurogroup head praises Greece for reform efforts

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, left, and Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who heads the finance ministers of the 17 European Union countries that use the euro, pose for photographers prior to their meeting in Athens, Friday, May 31, 2013. Dijsselbloem, is meeting in Athens with the Greek prime minister and finance minister to discuss the debt-ridden country's efforts to reform its economy. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- The head of the Eurogroup praised Greece with the efforts it is making to get its economy back into shape and pointed to some signs of an improvement in the country's economy.

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who chairs the meetings of the 17 finance ministers of the eurozone, met Friday in Athens with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras to discuss the debt-ridden country's efforts to reform its economy.

"We are very optimistic about the way that program is being executed," Dijsselbloem said after his meeting with Stournaras.

Hammered by a prolonged financial crisis, Greece has been relying on funds from international rescue loans since May 2010. In return, it has introduced stringent austerity measures, including repeated tax hikes and cuts to salaries and pensions.

The initial bailout programs have not worked as fast or as well as hoped for, despite a massive debt reduction program last year that saw Greece's privately held debt cut by more than half. The country is in a sixth year of a deep recession, with unemployment around 27 percent. Athens has redoubled its efforts to reform its economy over the past year.

Dijsselbloem, who is also the Dutch finance minister, said the "first signal of a turn in the economy" had already begun to appear in Greece.

The Greek government has said it expects growth to begin next year, and is aiming for a primary surplus — state income without taking into account interest payments on outstanding debt — this year. Once it has a primary surplus, it has said it could seek further debt relief, this time from the so-called official sector rather than private bondholders.

Asked whether there could be additional debt relief for Greece, the Dutch minister said the matter would be discussed in April next year.

"I see no reason to start these discussions early," he said.