Tue, Feb 17, 2015 - Page 15 News List

German official skeptical about Greek debt talks

‘IRRESPONSIBLE’:While Germany does not want Greece to exit the euro, it must stick to agreed reforms to be competitive, the finance minister said

Reuters, BERLIN

German Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schaeuble said in a radio interview yesterday that he was not very optimistic that Greece and its eurozone partners would reach a debt agreement at a meeting in Brussels later in the day.

Asked if the Eurogroup, a meeting of eurozone finance ministers, would find a solution for Greece’s debt problems, Schaeuble told Deutschlandfunk: “From what I’ve heard about the technical talks over the weekend, I’m very skeptical, but we will get a report today and then we’ll see.”

Schaeuble said Germany did not want Greece to leave the eurozone, but that the new government in Athens had to fulfil the core conditions of its bailout program, and that it was not about finding a compromise deal “just for the sake of a compromise.”

“The problem is that Greece has lived beyond its means for a long time, and that nobody wants to give Greece money anymore without guarantees,” Schaeuble said, adding that Athens had to stick to agreed reforms to become competitive.

Schaeuble added that the new Greek government was behaving “quite irresponsibly” right now, and that it was no help to insult others who have supported the country in the past.

A Greek leftist newspaper close to the ruling party in Athens published a cartoon last week, which showed Schaeuble in a Nazi uniform.

He is quoted as saying: “we insist on soap from your fat” and “we are discussing fertilizer from your ashes,” references to the fate of Jews in Nazi death camps.

In a separate interview with German broadcaster ZDF, Austrian Minister of Finance Hans-Joerg Schelling said the new Greek government still appeared to be in “election mode, not working mode.”

Greece’s finance minister was scheduled to meet his eurozone peers and ECB President Mario Draghi yesterday to discuss how to proceed with his country’s bailout program, which runs out on Feb. 28.

Greece said on Sunday it was confident of reaching an agreement in negotiations with its eurozone partners, but reiterated it would not accept harsh austerity strings in any debt pact.

A day before the eurozone finance ministers’ meeting in Brussels, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told Germany’s Stern magazine that Athens needed time to implement its reforms and shake off the mismanagement of the past.

“I expect difficult negotiations; nevertheless I am full of confidence,” he said. “I promise you: Greece will then, in six months’ time, be a completely different country.”

Tsipras’ new government was elected on a pledge to scrap the austerity strictures of Greece’s international bailouts on issues such as debt management, financing, privatization and labor reform.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker held a phone conversation on Sunday with Tsipras at the Greek prime minister’s request, an EU official said, speaking on condition of anonymity and providing no details.

“President Juncker is making a last effort in an extremely difficult situation,” the official said, playing down hopes for an agreement at a meeting scheduled for yesterday.

If the meeting produces no results, there is a concern that Greece would be headed for a credit crunch that would force it out of the eurozone.

However, progress could mean further negotiations, perhaps later in the week.

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