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Merkel meets with Juncker, Hollande to avert Greece crisis

The leaders of Germany, France and the EU Commission have begun talks on a range of EU-related issues, including the digital single market and energy. But with a "Grexit" looming, Athens is expected to dominate talks.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel began meeting with French President Francois Hollande and the EU commission chief, Jean-Claude Juncker, in Berlin on Monday evening.

Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said ahead of the business dinner that Athens could be part of discussions.

EU Commission President Juncker also suggested the possibility of Greece dominating Monday's talks, saying "It would be very surprising for me if that didn't happen."

With the question looming of whether Greece will remain in the eurozone after June, Juncker warned of the dangers of a Grexit. "I do not subscribe to the notion that we would have fewer problems and constraints if Greece were to exit the euro," Juncker told the Sunday edition of the German newspaper "Süddeutsche Zeitung".

Greece also topped the German chancellor's agenda on Sunday, when she spoke with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in a call with France's Hollande. The discussions were constructive, Merkel's spokesman Seibert said.

Athens as a 'scapegoat'

However, Tsipras was not happy with discussions on reforms with his international creditors. In a guest article in France's widely-read newspaper "Le Monde," he accused neo-liberal forces in the EU of being the reason why an agreement was elusive and said they were using his country as "the first scapegoat" to implement their austerity policies.

The European Commission responded to Tsipras' claims, saying that it needed "concrete reform proposals" and that the commission was merely being "a mediator" in the process.

Athens is due to receive a tranche of 7.2 billion euros ($7.86 billion) - part of its original 240-billion-euro economic package from the EU. Eurogroup countries and Athens' creditors are however unwilling to release the money unless Greece implements pension cuts and restructures its labor sector. Tsipras and his officers have time until the end of the month, when the EU's reform package to Athens expires.

The crisis-stricken country has a number of debts to repay in the coming weeks, including an IMF loan worth 300 million euros by Friday and nearly 1.6 billion euros in additional loans by the end of June.

Greece faces a default and the threat of being thrown out of the eurozone, if it does not come to an agreement with its creditors.

mg/kms (AFP, dpa)

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