Euro zone ministers agree to unlock new aid for Greece

BRUSSELS (AFP) - Euro zone finance ministers agreed on Monday to unlock billions of euros in fresh aid for Greece on condition it press ahead with urgently needed reforms.

The Eurogroup ministers, holding their last meeting before the summer break, which was also attended by International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde, agreed to pay out 6.8 billion euros (S$11 billion) in fresh aid to Athens.

However, the funds would not be handed over in one lump sum, but in different instalments subject to certain conditions being met.

"The Eurogroup commends the authorities for their continued commitment to implement the required reforms that have already led to a significant improvement of cost competitiveness, an impressive strengthening of the fiscal position and a more resilient banking sector," the group said in a statement read out by its chief, Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, at a news conference.

"The Eurogroup therefore expresses its appreciation for the efforts made by the Greek citizens.

"At the same time, significant further work is needed over the next weeks to fully implement all prior actions required for the next disbursement," Mr Dijsselbloem added.

In particular, the required reforms of the public administration - Athens has pledged to axe 4,000 state jobs by the end of the year, as well as redeploy 25,000 civil servants across its vast bureaucracy - needed to be carried out.

And further efforts were needed to improve tax revenue collection.

"It is time to step up momentum of reform in Greece," said Euroean Union economic and monetary affairs commissioner Olli Rehn.

Under the terms of the deal, some 4.0 billion euros would be paid out "in the coming weeks", and a further 1.0 billion euros in October, both sums shared by the rescue fund European Financial Stability Facility and European central banks.

And the IMF would stump up 1.8 billion euros.

IMF chief Lagarde said the board of her institution would review the report of Greece's "Troika" of creditors - the IMF, the European Central Bank and the EU - at the end of July.

And it would "review the various prior actions agreed with Greek authorities."

And there was "every reason to expect" that the funds would be disbursed, "given the work done by the Troika and the staff agreement reached yesterday," Ms Lagarde said.

The Troika had concluded a technical audit of reforms in Greece earlier.