Days after Greece struck a landmark deal with creditors to enter bailout negotiations, both sides are struggling to come up with a solution to its pressing, short-term cash needs. Options are proving elusive.
By mid-day Tuesday, finance officials from the eurozone had come up with six options to keep Greece from defaulting on its debt obligations until the country finalizes a third bailout agreement worth 86 billion euros ($95.1 billion) about five weeks from now.
But for all of the options, there are at least as many reasons that make them unpalatable for some European governments - be it financial, legal or political.
"It's full of traps and snares," said Jeroen Dijsselbloem, head of the Eurogroup finance ministers. "We're looking at all the instruments and funds that we could use and all of them seem to have disadvantages or impossibilities or legal objections."
Overall, Greece needs 7 billion euros in July and another 5 billion by mid-August. A crucial deadline is approaching next Monday, when Athens must redeem 3.5 billion euros in maturing credit from the European Central Bank.
If it misses that payment, the ECB would cut off emergency liquidity funding for Greece's banking sector, leaving the banks - and, by extension, the country - insolvent.
Greece already missed a second payment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Monday, just hours after it had reached a last-minute agreement for financial aid in exchange for hard austerity measures.
But even so, some of Europe's more hawkish finance chiefs, such as Finland's Alexander Stubb, have warned that it would be "very difficult for any member state to put forward fresh money without any conditionality."
Some of the six options that have been discussed by deputy finance ministers in the Euro Working Group have included providing Athens with bilateral loans from other eurozone member states or having the ECB transfer 3.5 billion euros in profits it made holding Greek bonds.
Another proposal saw German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, an already unpopular personality in Greece, float the idea of creating IOU's with which Athens could pay its pensions and other bills, thereby saving its precious euros for paying down debt.
But that option was sure to be controversial as it would presumably be seen as a first step toward a return to the Greek drachma.
Officials have also suggested making use of any of the 13.2 billion euros still available in the European Financial Stability Mechanism (EFSM), the mini-bailout fund set up in 2010, but that would require consent from all 28 European Union members, including ones that don't use the euro.
That's one thing that Britain has made very clear that it will not support - and European officials didn't press London, eager to not stoke any anti-European sentiment before the United Kingdom votes on its EU membership by 2017.
But even so, there was still some room left for optimism in Brussels.
"I never underestimate the capacity of European lawyers and economists to come up with a solution," Finland's Stubb said.
cjc/jd (Reuters, AFP, dpa)