'Greek debt could go above 140% of GDP'


Greece will fail to reduce its debt burden to a manageable level by 2020 with current policies, European Central Bank policymaker Joerg Asmussen told Belgian daily De Tijd, forecasting the target set by creditors will be widely missed.

Greece's second international bailout in March was supposed to make its debt sustainable by 2020, falling to 116.5 percent of economic output, but two elections and months of delays in agreed polices have thrown targets off course. Under unchanged policies, the debt in 2020 will still be somewhat higher than 140 percent of GDP according to ECB estimates, said Asmussen, a member of the ECB executive board, in an advance copy of an interview to be published on Saturday.

With total Greek debt estimated at 175 percent of gross domestic product and forecast to rise to nearly 190 percent next year, euro zone finance ministers will meet on Monday to try to determine just how off-track Greece is and how to respond. Disagreement over the state of Greece's future finances threatens to further delay the next 31.5 billion euro-tranche of Greece's second bailout, pushing it close to bankruptcy.

First estimates by inspectors from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund show the debt would be at least 130 percent of GDP in 2020. The IMF differs from the Commission, euro zone officials have told Reuters, with the Commission more optimistic.

Asmussen told De Tijd that finance ministers had to look at a range of options to help Greece, including voluntary debt buy-back's, lowering the interest rate on outstanding loans and asking for a higher Greek primary surplus.

A radical strategy would be for euro zone countries, which have made loans totalling 127 billion euros to Greece under the two bailout programmes, to write off some of that.

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