Sat, Feb 18, 2012 - Page 10 News List

Germany avoiding two-step Greece vote

Bloomberg

Germany wants eurozone finance chiefs to avoid splitting consideration of a 130 billion euro (US$171 billion) Greek rescue and a bond swap to cut the nation’s debt load at a meeting next week, coalition lawmakers were told.

As long as Greece meets conditions for the aid, the finance ministers meeting in Brussels will probably approve the package along with the debt exchange, three German officials involved in a telephone briefing by German government officials said.

Wrangling among eurozone finance ministers on a conference call on Wednesday over how to reduce Greece’s debt load and tighten control of the aid raised the prospect of a two-step process, according to two people familiar with the talks. In that scenario, the ministers’ gathering in Brussels on Monday would be limited to the bond exchange and deferring a decision on the rest of the bailout funds.

“We expect the Greeks to rise to their responsibilities,” German Deputy Finance Minister Steffen Kampeter told a group of lawyers in Hamburg on Thursday. “This coming Monday, we will see whether Greece delivers or whether we will be forced to decide on another course of action, one that is not desired.”

As recriminations fly between Greece and its northern European creditors, the clock is ticking toward a March 20 bond redemption, when Greece must pay 14.5 billion euros or trigger the first sovereign default in the euro’s 13-year history.

While Greek lawmakers this month passed austerity measures that were required for the aid, the euro ministers wrestled with the latest setback, hearing on their call that Greece would miss debt-reduction goals.

Without further measures to close the funding gap, Greece’s debt would fall to 129 percent of GDP in 2020, missing a target of 120 percent, said three people familiar with the talks who declined to be named because they are still in progress.

Last year, the level was about 160 percent.

Central bankers have also indicated that the European Central Bank (ECB) could funnel future profits from its Greek bond holdings to national governments and on into the crisis program.

They have agreed that they “don’t wish to make a profit on Greece,” ECB Governing Council member Luc Coene of Belgium said this week.

More controversial is a proposal for national central banks to take part in the private exchange by accepting losses on Greek bonds in their investment portfolios. France is virtually alone in backing that idea, one of the officials said.

The ECB is swapping its Greek bonds for new ones to ensure it is not forced to take losses in a debt restructuring, three eurozone officials said.

EU discussions on a proposal to set up an escrow account to ensure that Greek aid money goes to paying creditors are still underway, a Greek government official said in Athens yesterday.

The multiple scenarios led to a possible two-step decision — authorizing the bond exchange next week and then completing the 130 billion euro public aid program — that would raise political risks by requiring two votes in some national parliaments.

It would also turn a planned March 1-2 summit of European leaders into a showdown over Greece, after countries including the Netherlands and Finland called for delaying the full package until after Greek elections in April or later.

The bond exchange can only go ahead once governments authorize the European Financial Stability Facility to provide 30 billion euros, to be used in cash or collateral as an incentive to investors.

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