European Commissioner of Economic and Financial Affairs
Luxembourg - AFP
Eurozone finance ministers agreed on Thursday to unlock 7.5 billion euros ($8.4 billion) in urgently needed cash for Greece, saving Athens financially for a few months.
"This is a welcome breath of oxygen for the Greek economy," said the European Union's top economic affairs official, Pierre Moscovici, after a meeting with the 19 ministers from the countries that use the euro.
The ministers met in Luxembourg and officially unblocked the money that will allow the Greek government to meet two huge debt payments to the European Central Bank next month.
The technical decision to disburse will be taken by senior officials on Friday, with money expected in the government coffers in Athens next week, said Klaus Regling, the head of the European Stability Mechanism that manages Greece's bailout payments.
The ministers last month agreed in principle to unlock the aid, the windfall for completing the first formal review of its 86-billion-euro bailout programme agreed last July.
But the leftist government in Athens still had to deliver on some last reforms, including a revamped plan on long-delayed privatisations.
The eurozone and IMF head Christine Lagarde, who attended the talks, remained divided on how to move forward with the bailout.
"The IMF is not engaged in a programme with Greece," Lagarde told reporters after the talks.
The IMF has said it won't give a penny to the third bailout until it sees a concrete plan from the Europeans to substantially cut the Greece's massive debt burden.
The Washington based IMF has made reducing that debt a condition for its continued participation in the bailout programme, despite opposition from powerful Germany to giving Athens more favours.
"For us to be engaged... a debt operation would have to be assessed," added Lagarde, a former French finance minister.
Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem said: "As far I am concerned, we are going to do it together."
The payout comes a day after thousands of Greeks protested in Athens over new cuts imposed by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in return for the bailout.
Re-elected last year on a pledge to fight austerity, Tsipras instead brokered Greece's third bailout with its EU creditors that required fresh tax hikes and a controversial pension overhaul.