Greece Shuffles Team Negotiating With Creditors

Politics Dow Jones Newswires

Greece has shuffled the team involved in bailout talks with the country's international creditors, a senior government official said Monday, in a move that may reduce the influence outspoken Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has on the slow-moving negotiations.

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The decision comes only days after eurozone finance chiefs piled pressure on Greece and Mr. Varoufakis to speed up talks if it wants to seal a new financing deal before the current one expires at the end of June, and to avoid defaulting on its debt.

Greece's alternate foreign minister, Euclid Tsakalotos, will head a new policy negotiating team, a senior government official said, while the finance ministry's chief economist will lead talks in Brussels with the heads of the country's international creditors--a formation known as the Brussels Group. Both people are seen as close allies of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

Although, the Greek government continued to express its support for Mr. Varoufakis, the shuffle is likely to weaken his role in the bailout talks. The eurozone's top policy makers have in recent weeks reached out increasingly to Mr. Tsipras to ensure the government's cooperation in talks for new financing and economic overhauls.

During a meeting between senior government officials late Sunday, "the support to the Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, who has been targeted by international press, has been reconfirmed," the official said.

But with the deadline for an agreement approaching, Mr. Tsipras had phone calls Sunday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who presides over the meetings with his eurozone counterparts, to discuss accelerating talks on the conditions attached to continued aid.

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The Brussels Group will hold a teleconference Monday and plans to meet Wednesday.

Two opinion polls published over the weekend showed that Greeks are no longer satisfied with the government's performance despite months of public enthusiasm for it in the wake of January's elections. A survey by Alco found that 52% of those asked were unsatisfied with the government's performance since it came to power compared with 39% who said they were happy with it.

A separate survey by pollster Kapa Research showed that 71.9% of Greeks believe that Greece would benefit from reaching an agreement with its creditors, with just 23.2% in favor of breaking with them.

It showed that 72.9% want the country to stay in the eurozone, while 20.3% want to revive the drachma.

Mr. Varoufakis has been one of the Greek government's most visible figures. His abrasive style has found many followers among critics of the eurozone's crisis strategy but has alienated many of his political counterparts.