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Greece Stalls, Germany Pushes for Deal

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Greece has already missed its deadline of Monday to win approval by various government factions of measures demanded by the European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund and European Union before they will approve the latest bailout package for Athens–all that stands between the ancient country and default. As the matter drags on, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, spearheading the demand for austerity, is becoming impatient.

Reuters reported that Merkel, after a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, said she and Sarkozy have agreed that Greece should deposit funds from revenue into a specially designated escrow account to ensure the country’s creditors are paid in a timely manner.

EU officials have said that all agreements must be complete between Greece and the troika before Feb. 15, so that there is sufficient time to put together the bond swap that will reduce Greece’s overall indebtedness. That swap must be executed in time for a March 20 bond redemption. Some euro zone countries must seek parliamentary approval for the deal to proceed.

Even as Greece postponed a critical Monday meeting till Tuesday, Merkel was quoted saying, “We want Greece to stay in the euro. I want to make clear once again that there can be no deal if the troika proposals are not implemented. They are on the table … Something needs to happen quickly.” She added, “I honestly can’t understand how additional days will help. Time is of the essence. A lot is at stake for the entire eurozone.”

The office of Prime Minister Lucas Papademos gave no reason for the delay, but issued a statement after Merkel’s comment saying he would hold further talks with the troika. Bloomberg reported that he did so overnight.

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Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos was quoted saying, “A failure of the negotiations, a failure of the program or a default by the country means even greater sacrifices. Unfortunately, the negotiations are so tough that as soon as one chapter ends another one opens.”

Dimitras Reppas, public administration minister, said that the troika has said that 15,000 public sector jobs must be cut by the end of 2012; that is only part of the 150,000 public sector jobs it has said must be eliminated by 2015. In protest, ADEDY and GSEE, the largest public-sector and private-sector union groups, called a 24-hour general strike Tuesday that shut down government services, courts, schools and ferry services. 

Additionally, walkouts that included dockworkers and bank employees, as well as culture ministry employees, further disrupted everything from business to tourism.

In a statement, GSEE head Yannis Panagopoulos said, “What is taking place isn’t a negotiation. It’s raw, cynical blackmail against a whole people.”