European officials pushed forward Thursday with efforts to avert a bond default by Greece, with lawmakers in Athens approving legislation and German officials saying their banks were prepared to help.
The Greek parliamentary vote, the second in as many days, means Prime Minister George Papandreou will head to a summit of European leaders this weekend with a fresh commitment by his nation: $40 billion in spending cuts and tax increases and a promise to sell off major state assets to raise another $70 billion.
European leaders and the International Monetary Fund have demanded such assurances as a condition for granting more international loans to the financially strapped country. Greece needs $17 billion in coming days to make payments to bondholders and keep the government running.
European officials and the IMF are expected to approve disbursement of those funds at a summit in Brussels on Sunday.
In a statement, the IMF called the recent parliamentary votes in Greece “a welcome and important step” and said it expected upcoming negotiations to lead to the release of Greece’s next round of international loans.
In Frankfurt, Germany, on Thursday, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said his nation’s banks would work on a plan for private-sector financial institutions to help Greece out of its difficulties.
Financial institutions in Germany, France and other nations hold tens of billions of dollars in Greek bonds that fall due in the next three years, confronting the Greek government with large, onetime payments it cannot afford to make.
At Germany’s urging, European leaders made any future lending to Greece conditional on a “substantial” private-sector contribution. It was not fair, officials said, for Europe’s taxpayers to foot the full cost of an emergency program in which some of the money would pay off private investors.
Finance officials in Germany, France and other European countries have been negotiating with their banks toward that end and want to have commitments largely in hand for the Sunday summit. The hope is that banks and other large institutional investors will agree, as existing bonds fall due, to reinvest some of the proceeds into longer-term Greek securities, allowing the nation years to stabilize before having to make payments.
The talks are sensitive. Ratings agencies have said they would look critically at any deal and declare Greece in default if bondholders were being forced to participate in an exchange or to accept an investment of lower value for their current holdings.
Schaeuble said the talks were starting to bear fruit — in Germany’s case, with a commitment by banks to convert some $3 billion in bonds due in the next three years into longer-term Greek securities. German banks have much more invested in Greece, but most of those holdings do not mature until 2020, Schaeuble said.
Details of the agreement were not made public.
France, which has also reported progress in discussions with its banks, has proposed that bondholders agree to reinvest at least half of their Greek bond holdings, putting some of that into bonds that would not be due for as many as 30 years — essentially giving officials in Athens a generation to get their economy on track.
The talks in Europe are being monitored closely by the Obama administration. The president has said that Europe’s financial problems pose a direct risk to U.S. economic growth and that a default by Greece could have deep repercussions.