Mon, Jun 08, 2015 - Page 6 News List

EU’s Juncker snubs Greek PM after debt deal rebuff

Reuters, BRUSSELS and ATHENS

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker declined to speak to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Saturday after the leftist leader rejected as “absurd” international creditors’ terms for a cash-for-reform deal to keep his country from default.

An EU official said Juncker, who has tried to bridge the gap between Athens and its lenders, refused to take a telephone call from the Greek premier since there was nothing new to discuss.

A Greek government official denied the report and said Tsipras held a conference call on the debt crisis with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande.

The unresolved debt impasse, which is weighing on financial markets and could hit the global economic recovery, is set to hang over a G7 summit that Merkel is to chair in southern Germany that began yesterday.

A German spokesman said Tsipras was not invited.

With time running out for a debt deal and Greece struggling to meet its payment obligations, relations between Athens and its European and IMF lenders have turned increasingly raw.

A European Commission spokeswoman said in a text message: “I can confirm that there was a request for a call. President Juncker and PM Tsipras will certainly stay in contact in the coming days, as was said in the statement on Wednesday night.”

Tsipras had been due to return to Brussels for more talks on Friday but, faced with a backlash inside his SYRIZA party, went to the Greek parliament instead and denounced the creditors’ conditions as a “very bad negotiating trick.”

“The Greek prime minister requested a phone call on Saturday, but Juncker declined because there has been no progress in the discussions, and proposals that the Greek side promised on Wednesday night to deliver on Thursday have not arrived,” the EU official told reporters. “There have been no new developments so there was nothing to discuss.”

European Parliament President Martin Schulz, who has been supportive of Greece’s cause, also voiced exasperation, telling the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper: “The stubbornness of the Greek government is infuriating.”

German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat more sympathetic to Athens than his conservative coalition partners, warned in a newspaper interview that the mood in Germany was now for letting Greece leave the eurozone.

Asked if he saw a deal soon, Gabriel said: “That depends solely on the Greek government. Europe has gone to its limits.”

Greece postponed a payment to the IMF due on Friday until the end of this month, highlighting its precarious cash position and spooking markets. The move gave it a few extra days to negotiate a deal it wants linked to future debt relief.

An EU diplomat said Tsipras would fly to Brussels on Tuesday before a two-day EU-Latin America summit and that would be an opportunity for political talks on a solution, while experts from Greece and the EU/IMF lenders work on detail in parallel technical negotiations.

Brussels officials still believe Tsipras wants a deal but they are exasperated with Greek rhetoric and brinkmanship.

Greek Minister of Finance Yanis Varoufakis kept up that barrage on Saturday, saying that the proposal handed to Tsipras on Wednesday was “almost offensive.”

“I cannot imagine they really meant this to be the basis for an agreement, it was meant as an aggressive move, to terrorize the Greek government. Without realizing that this government cannot be terrorized,” he told yesterday’s Proto Thema newspaper.

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