Bailouts still key issue as eurozone finance ministers meet

VILNIUS (AFP) - Eurozone finance ministers meet in calmer times on Friday but still need to ensure bailed-out member states meet their targets amid growing speculation some will need more help to get back on track.

The informal talks are overshadowed by upcoming elections in Germany, the 17-nation bloc's paymaster and most powerful economy where the prospect of any more taxpayer funded rescues is hugely unpopular.

"We are going to listen to all the countries that have been bailed out," to review progress and consider the next steps, a European government source said.

Twice-bailed out Greece is in focus given widespread acceptance it needs a once taboo third rescue, probably for 10 billion euros (S$16.8 billion), to bolster its finances.

Ministers will look closely at Ireland, whose rescue programme ends this year and is hoping for support as it returns to traditional financing via the markets.

Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan has suggested a credit-line of 10 billion euros would serve "as a backstop to give confidence" to investors, stressing that Dublin was not expecting to actually have to use that money.

Portugal meanwhile has run into serious problems after key parts of its rescue programme were ruled illegal, leaving the government shaken and desperately trying to find other ways to balance the books.

On Wednesday, Lisbon called for what would be a third easing in its 2014 public deficit targets - to 4.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product from the tougher 4.0 percent.

The government said it would raise the issue with its Troika of creditors - the EU, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund - during a review beginning on Monday but it is by no means certain it will get what it wants.

"There must be very convincing arguments," an EU source said. "I'm not quite sure that there is a change of circumstances except the changes in the Portuguese government."

Cyprus meanwhile awaits approval of the next tranche of a very controversial rescue which saw creditors, shareholders and larger depositors forced to pay to wind up one of its largest banks.

Slovenia faces a similar problem of a banking sector run wild, with its lenders at risk as boom has turned to bust in recent years.

Last week, Brussels approved Slovenia state aid worth more than one billion euros for two small banks, Factor Bank and Probanka, on the basis it was "necessary to preserve the stability of the financial system."

The problems of the banks will be a major talking point as ministers press ahead with plans for a 'Banking Union,' a new regulatory regime meant to prevent any failing lender from pulling down the wider economy.

A key step was taken on Thursday when the European Parliament approved setting up the Single Supervisory Mechanism, the first pillar of the new system which will be followed by a Single Resolution Mechanism to wind up failed bank.

After that will come a Deposit Guarantee System to reassure depositors their money is safe, even at times of stress.

The ECB will act as the actual bank regulator, now expected to be operational from September next year.

"I would expect the (ECB) to provide some information on the state of preparations," the EU diplomatic source said.

"One of the most important things that will happen next year would be the balance sheet assessment" to test the strength of the some 150 largest banks that will initially come under the new regime, the source added.

The eurozone ministers are joined on Saturday by their non-euro peers, several of whom led by Britain are very cautious and reluctant to hand regulation of their banks to the ECB and Brussels.

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