ATHENS, Greece – Greece failed to finalize terms for a crucial euro130 billion ($173 billion) bailout Thursday, but Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos headed to Brussels to meet top EU officials, hoping to rescue the agreement and stave off bankruptcy.
The Athens talks stalled after leaders of the three parties backing Greece’s coalition government approved sweeping new austerity measures but failed to agree to creditors’ demands to make euro300 million ($398 million) in pension cuts.
Venizelos issued a dramatic plea to the coalition leaders to swiftly resolve their differences, warning that Greece’s “survival over the coming years” depends on the bailout and a related debt-relief agreement with private creditors.
“It will determine whether the country remains in the eurozone or whether its place in Europe will be endangered,” he said.
“There is no room for any other expediency: we must look Greeks in the eye, look at the national interest and the interest of our children.”
Venizelos’ meeting with finance ministers from the 16 other nations that use the euro is expected to start at 1700 GMT.
The debt inspectors from the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — known as the troika — held talks for five hours through the night with Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, Venizelos and Labor Minister Giorgos Koutroumanis.
But they failed to resolve the latest sticking point: a demand for cuts in supplementary pensions worth about euro300 million.
The sum is relatively small compared with the euro130 billion bailout package that depends upon it and which Greece needs to avoid a disastrous default next month.
Government officials said debt inspectors had given the government 15 days to provide a viable alternative to cover the euro300 shortfall.
“The pensions in question are for people of low income, so the issue is important,” Evangelos Antonaros, a conservative member of parliament and former government spokesman, told state-run NET radio. “We have been given 15 days to come up with an alternative. Hopefully we can come up with something.”
Markets seemed to hold hope that a deal will eventually be reached. European stocks were steady — the Stoxx 50 index of leading European shares was up 0.1 percent while the euro was 0.4 percent higher.
On Wednesday, the three leaders held talks with Papademos for seven and a half hours and backed a major new austerity program that includes a 22 percent cut in the minimum wage, firings of civil servants, and an end to dozens of job guarantee provisions.
Unions responded angrily to the new cuts and said they would carry out strikes in protest.
“Our rights have disappeared,” Vangelis Moutafis, a senior member of Greece’s largest union, the GSEE, told private Vima radio.
Asked if his the GSEE would call strikes, he replied: “Of course,” adding that protest plans would be announced later Thursday.
The Greek government has already accepted a demand to fire up to 15,000 workers in the public sector in 2012.
“At 2 a.m., all I can say, is a line from the Beatles: ‘It is a hard day’s night,”‘ Karatzaferis told reporters upon leaving his party’s headquarters for home.