EU finance chief heads to Athens Monday

BRUSSELS: The EU's financial affairs chief is traveling to Athens to hold discussions with Greek officials on their country's debt crisis and efforts to enact painful austerity measures to curb public spending.

EU Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn will have talks Monday in the Greek capital with, among others, Deputy Premier Theodorus Pangalos, Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou and George Provopoulos, the governor of the Bank of Greece, the European Commission said Saturday.

His visit follows days of hectic international negotiations.

On Friday, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou held talks with the head of Germany's biggest bank and President Barack Obama discussed Greece with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown via video conference.

Greece's EU partners have said they will not toss Greece a financial lifeline.

Rehn's visit is designed to impress upon Athens that its partners want to see quick, credible steps to put Greece's finances in order. The country's budget deficit has ballooned to almost 13 percent of gross domestic product, more than four times the ceiling set by the euro's sound finances rules.

The nation's fiscal woes have shaken global markets' confidence in the common European currency. The government has vowed to cut overspending through public sector salary and hiring freezes, combined with hikes in consumer taxes and retirement ages.

Greek unions have held wide-ranging protest strikes in response to the planned austerity measures, last week shutting down flights and schools and curtailing medical services.

Greece is widely expected to issue government bonds this week. Experts believe it could resort to selling them directly to a few large institutional customers rather than auction them on capital markets at a prohibitively high interest-rate premium to offset fears of a Greek default.