Greece and creditors have failed to break their deadlock. The impasse raises fresh fears of a default that could see the country lose the euro.
Finance minister talks to pave the way for EU leaders to sign an accord at a summit in Brussels broke up abruptly Thursday with no agreement, setting up possible last-ditch talks on Saturday. Greece needs loans to pay 1.5 billion euros ($1.7 billion) to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) by the end of June.
"We have not made the necessary progress," German Chancellor Angela Merkel, an austerity hawk, told reporters on Thursday. "In some areas one even gets the impression that we have moved backwards."
Germans largely support their government's austerity agenda, citing the health of the euro. This week, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said Merkel faced a "stark choice." Ahead of Thursday's meeting with Varoufakis and counterparts, Germany's finance minister said the choice was not the chancellor's.
"The decision lies exclusively with the Greek authorities," Wolfgang Schäuble said Thursday afternoon, appearing to predict Merkel's later comments. "They have, however, rather gone backwards."
A default could bankrupt Greece, destabilize markets and damage the EU. Meetings between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi and IMF boss Christine La Garde ended with no deal early Thursday. Still, an IMF spokesman expressed optimism that Greece would manage its payment by June 30.
Last week, European Council President Donald Tusk warned of the risk of a "chaotic, uncontrollable Grexident," but he, too, expressed optimism Thursday, saying he saw the possibility of a "happy end" to the talks, "unlike in Sophocles' tragedies," an oddly timed reference to a 2,500-year-old Greek playwright.
For his part, Tsipras also insisted that a deal remained possible, and even spent part of Thursday talking and joking around with Chancellor Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. En route to winning January's elections, his Syriza party had promised Greeks an end to five years of bitter internationally imposed austerity, which has contributed to a 25 percent contraction of the economy, a drop in the minimum monthly wage, and a 26.9 percent unemployment rate - 52 percent for youth.
"After the comprehensive Greek proposals, I'm confident we'll reach a compromise that will help the eurozone and Greece to overcome the crisis," Tsipras said as he arrived at the summit of EU leaders.
mkg/jil (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)