Nathalie Thomas: Greek crisis begins to echo plot of Acropolis Now...

FRANCIS Ford Coppola never bothered to make a sequel to Apocalypse Now, the 1979 Vietnam war epic starring Marlon Brando and Martin Sheen, which was recently re-released on the big screen.

He didn't have to. Having got pretty close to perfection the first time, there would have been little point in rehashing or stringing out something that could never be bettered.

Unfortunately the same can't be said of "Acropolis Now" - the real-life drama that threatened to bring down the eurozone last year before the EU agreed a €110 billion (95bn) bail-out package.

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The Greek debt crisis has returned from the land of Hades with a vengeance and this time it's more complicated than the plot of James Joyce's Ulysses.

Greece needs €60bn-€70bn of fresh finance until the end of 2013 but this time, the Greek government won't be able to rely on the EU and International Monetary Fund (IMF) simply handing over a cheque.

The eyes of the world may be fixed on the shenanigans at the top of Fifa but the real saga is unfolding in Athens and Brussels as European leaders and representatives of the IMF try to hammer out an agreement that will prevent the eurozone from being plunged into another crisis that could quickly deteriorate into a full-blown tragedy.

With the possibility that Greece could default on its €327bn debt, it's a high-stakes game and you know the odds are never good when people close to negotiations let off emergency flares.

Yesterday European Central Bank board member Lorenzo Bini Smaghi raised blood pressures when he said in an interview that an orderly restructuring of Greek debt was a "fairytale".

On 29 June, the fifth tranche of last year's bail-out is due to be paid and European leaders are facing a race against time to agree a deal after the IMF last week warned that it would not stump up its share - €3.3bn of the €12bn due - unless the EU provides assurances that it will meet Greece's funding needs next year.

Under the terms of the May 2010 agreement, Greece was to borrow €24bn from the international money markets in 2012 but, having missed its deficit reduction targets, it's unlikely that it will be able to raise the necessary funds.

While the IMF is playing hard ball, governments - particularly in Germany, Norway and Finland - are facing fierce opposition to the idea that the EU should once again pour billions into the crumbling Greek economy.

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A small chink of light appeared yesterday when reports in the UK suggested that a deal which would involve "unprecedented" international intervention in the Greek economy - potentially including the participation of private debt holders - was on the table.

It looks as though we'll be kept waiting until at least the end of the week before details of a second bail-out deal are announced but, like Odysseus' ten-year journey back to Ithaca, it's a safe assumption that the eurozone's journey back to economic certainty is far from over.Is Merlin working his magic or is Mickey Mouse in charge?

FINALLY there are signs that Project Merlin, the much-vaunted agreement between the coalition government and banks on lending, might be about to harvest some fruit.

Earlier this month, the deal was in danger of becoming just another ineffective PR campaign when it was revealed that Britain's biggest banks were behind on lending targets to small firms.

Sceptics, who believe the banks still aren't being beaten hard enough by policymakers, even went so far as to dub the deal "project Mickey Mouse".

But today a survey from the manufacturers' organisation EEF concedes that availability of credit for small firms has increased for the first time since the recession.

It's the kind of news that might cause the normally dour Chancellor George Osborne to crack a wee smile.

The same number of small firms surveyed by EEF reported that it was easier to get bank funding in April and May than those who complained that it was more difficult.

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That might seem like a small victory but compared to previous surveys, which have showed that the majority were facing difficulties, it's a positive step forwards.

However, it's not time to hang the bunting outside No 11 Downing Street quite yet. The same survey also shows that the cost of borrowing for SMEs has continued to rise.

Although there's talk of an interest rate rise as early as August, SMEs still find higher borrowing costs difficult to digest when the Bank of England base rate remains at 0.5 per cent.

The banks still have some explaining to do.