Tough talks in Athens, Brussels
Premier joins EU peers while minister heralds new taxes to cover 5.5-billion-euro financing gap
Prime Minister George Papandreou joined his European Union counterparts in Brussels yesterday for tough negotiations aimed at securing more funding for his debt-ridden country as new Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos continued discussions in Athens with representatives of foreign creditors about a new raft of austerity measures to be voted on in Parliament next week.
Speaking to reporters on his arrival in Brussels, Papandreou said Greece was intent on seeing through its austerity program but he stressed that Athens expected solidarity from the bloc in return. “Greece is strongly committed to continue a very difficult but important program for major changes, radical changes to make our economy viable,” Papandreou said. But he added, “We expect that the European Union also will create the efficient framework to deal with this crisis and also to deal with the number of systemic problems we’ve been seeing over the past months in the eurozone.”
For his part, European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said the bloc was prepared to help Greece save its economy “but the first thing is that Greece must help itself, so that the other Europeans can help Greece. That’s the bottom line.”
In Brussels, where Papandreou joined his counterparts for a working dinner last night, no final decisions were expected to be made on the Greek problem, which topped the agenda of talks that continue today.
Having secured a confidence vote in his government on Monday, Papandreou was expected to strike a positive stance vis-a-vis his eurozone peers regarding the likely approval of the midterm program – which aims to raise 28 billion euros through tax increases and cuts to public spending and another 50 billion euros through the privatization of state assets.
It was decided yesterday that the program will be voted on in Parliament on Wednesday and its implementation program on Thursday.
Venizelos, too, appeared upbeat yesterday during his first press con- ference in Athens following talks with representatives of the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The minister pledged additional measures to cover a financing gap of 5.5 billion euros highlighted by foreign creditors.
Main opposition New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras was also in Brussels yesterday for a summit of the European People’s Party, a group of center-right political parties. Samaras was reportedly urged to change his stance and vote for the midterm program next week. But he seemed to stick to his guns. “The current policy mix... calls for more taxes in an economy in unprecedented recession,” Samaras said. “We need corrected policy measures to ensure that the economy recovers and that we can pay back our debt,” he said, reiterating his calls for a renegotiation of the terms of Greece’s agreement with its creditors.