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Europe

Rumors abound over delayed troika report

Is it getting better, or will the country go bust? The immediate future of Greece very much depends on the latest assessment by the so-called troika. But the group's investigation is taking an unusually long time.

The troika - a joint team of controllers with members of the European Union , the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) - is currently visiting Athens for a closer look at the severity of the euro crisis and how well Greece has been managing so far.

Their report will have a direct effect on the decision for further financial aid - and its current delay gives room for much speculation. Still, as spokesman of the European Commission, Simon O'Connor deflects any questions from journalists: "I have no particular comment to make or any details to share with you at this stage as long as those talks are going. Once an agreement is reached, I will able to say more."

Poul Thomsen (right), representative of the International Monetary Fund EPA/ALKIS KONSTANTINIDIS +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

The troika is currently in Athens evaluating the country's progress

With an answer like this, O'Connor is not the exception, but the rule: be it EU representatives in Brussels or leading politicians across the Union, when asked about the troika, none have much to say. Whenever there are questions about Greece, they simply say that all depends on the troika's report from Athens. But so far, that report has yet to make an appearance.

At first, the final version of the report was to have been published at the beginning of October - until it was postponed. Now, the beginning of November is being considered as the next possible date.

Until then, just as during previous inspection visits, the controllers appear determined to remain silent. As a result, the international public is increasingly questioning the reasons for the delay.

One team, many opinions

As head of the Centre for European Policy Studies, a Brussels-based think tank, Daniel Gros expects large parts of the report to be a sober assessment of the facts. "But then it's all about drawing the conclusions, writing it all down from beginning to end. And this does take a while, since it's not really clear what's really wanted," he said.

Daniel Gros, Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), in Brussels. Quelle: http://www.ceps.eu/files/old/media/highrespics/DG_3_05122007.jpg

Gros says the troika might be internally divided

This means that there's a chance the troika might be internally divided. On the outside they may give the appearance of a team, but according to media reports a quarrel has erupted about what path to choose. After all, the EU, ECB and IMF are three separate institutions with differing agendas.

The IMF, especially, tends to issue harsher verdicts on Greece, as its members - such as some emerging economies or the US - have been eyeing the eurozone with increasing criticism.

Besides, the IMF must defend its reputation as a strict consultant that helps states to straighten out their finances. And with every submitted troika report that is proved wrong, the institution is likely to weaken its credibility.

Waiting out the US elections?

There might, however, yet be another overarching political reason for the delay, according to Jürgen Matthes of the Cologne Institute for Economic Research.

"One assumption out there, which I believe to be politically credible, is that [the troika] wants to wait for the US election to take place," he said. "After all, we've seen how critically the eurozone developments have been watched in the US, and how worried the Obama administration has been that the euro crisis might have negative repercussions for the US economy, eventually costing Obama his re-election."

Speculations about the delayed troika report were also made recently by the Greek government. In a statement not linked with the troika, it announced that Athens would have another two years for reaching its savings target - a deal that the IMF promptly denied.

Jürgen Matthes - Senior Economist - Internationale Wirtschaftspolitik Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft Köln

Matthes thinks the US election could be a reason for the delay

The financial world, meanwhile, has been watching the bargaining happening in Greece with increasing nervousness. Banks and businesses want facts, rather than speculation and irritating statements.

After all, the troika's final report will play an important part when it comes to deciding whether Greece is to receive the next aid package of over 31 billion euros ($40 billion) from its international lenders. Without it, the country would be facing bankruptcy, which, in turn, would drag the financial markets down and increase pressure on the eurozone as a whole.

More action necessary

That's why Gros believes Greece won't be left out in the cold, adding that he thinks everyone involved will claim to have two loyalties: backing stricter measures against Athens, but at the same time appreciating the efforts the country has already accomplished. "It doesn't make sense to let [Greece] perish now."

Whatever happens, it seems certain that the troika report will conclude that more is still necessary, according to experts. Based on all that is known so far, Greece is, after all, still a long way from meeting the financial targets set as a requirement by its international lenders.

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