Greece's finance minister said Tuesday that Athens is close to sealing a deal with its international lenders on fresh austerity measures in exchange for billions of euros in aid funds.
"I hope that by Sunday (the package will be finalised), we don't have much time," said Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras after a three-hour meeting with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.
The negotiations are "difficult" but with about two thirds of the austerity programme already finalised, Greece is on the right path and close to sealing a deal with its international lenders to unlock crucial aid funds, he said.
Horst Reichenbach, head of the European Commission Task Force for Greece, meanwhile assessed that Athens' progress in terms of reforms has been "impressive".
The Greek government is currently negotiating public spending cuts amounting to about 11.5 billion euros ($15-billion) with the so-called troika of international lenders - the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank.
Progress on implementing those cuts would determine if the debt-wracked country receives a slice of 31.5 billion euros it needs to stay afloat.
Earlier on Tuesday, Stournaras forecast a slightly higher recession-induced public deficit for 2012, but said the country would achieve its fiscal adjustment if given extra time.
Speaking at a Greek-Chinese business conference, the minister predicted that primary deficit would reach 1.5 percent for the end of 2012, without taking debt servicing into account, higher than the 1.0 percent target set in the EU-IMF rescue plan.
Stournaras underlined the extent of Greece's recession, which he said "is expected to exceed six percent in 2012," and talked of "serious delays" in the fiscal adjustment programme because of back-to-back elections in May and June.
But the new government has "acted quickly, we have taken all necessary measures and we are certain that the 2012 budget is, in general, on the right path," he said.
"We have completed two-thirds of the fiscal adjustment target," he confirmed.
Underlining the expected effects of recession and estimating that the accumulated contraction in output would reach 25 percent between 2008 and 2014, he stressed that Greece must be given more time to stabilise.
Regarding "the time frame for the adjustment, the conditions of real economy should be taken into consideration," he said.
In a weekend interview to the Washington Post, Samaras said publicly for the first time that Athens was seeking an additional two years to achieve a public deficit target of less than three percent of output.
Meanwhile, according to Eurostat data published on Monday, in the first quarter of 2012 Greece recorded the biggest year-on-year drop in labour cost in Europe of 11.5 percent.
According to the data, which covers the whole economy except agriculture, the cost of labour increased by 1.5 percent in the 17-country eurozone and by 1.4 percent in the 27-member European Union.