Barroso to visit Greece as turmoil continues

24.07.12 @ 14:56

  1. By Honor Mahony
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BRUSSELS - European commission president Jose Manuel Barroso will visit Greece Thursday in his first trip to the country since the outbreak of the financial crisis.

  • Jose Manuel Barroso has spoken a lot about Greece in recent times but not visited since 2009 (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

President Barroso will meet Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to "discuss the overall situation in Europe and obviously particularly focusing on Greece," a commission spokesperson said Tuesday (24 July).

The spokesperson played down the significance of the meeting by saying it was part of "regular contacts" between the commission president and EU leaders.

But the economic and political context make the meeting anything but regular.

Barroso last went to the country in June 2009, almost a year before Greece became the first eurozone state to be bailed out.

In the three years since, Greece has received two EU-IMF bailouts, seen its GDP plunge and its unemployment rate shoot up. There have been three general elections, social unrest, and continued speculation about the viability of its eurozone membership.

With the reform programme in return for bailout money well off track, EU commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund inspectors are once more in the country examining the books.

Greece says it will need a further two years to meet its commitments. This is could cost its creditors another €50bn.

But it is seen as politically almost impossible to go back to national parliaments to ask for a third bailout for Athens. Meanwhile the IMF did not outright deny a recent report in German media that it is considering stopping more funds going to the country.

A political decision on whether to allow Athens more time to make the reforms is expected to be taken in September. It will be based on the findings of the 'troika' experts. A report in the Rheinische Post, a regional German newspaper, says that the experts believe that around 210 of the 300 savings commitments have not been carried out.

Being seen

Aside from the feverish economic context - made worse by weekend comments by a prominent German politician that a Greece eurozone exit had "lost its horror" - there is also the political context of high-ranking EU politicians letting their faces been seen.

While Barroso is making his first visit in three years, EU council president Herman Van Rompuy was last there in April 2011 and German Chancellor Angela Merkel - who has shaped the eurozone's answer to the crisis - has not been in Greece at all since its financial problems started. Her last visit was in 2007.

EU parliament chief Martin Schulz, by contrast, has travelled there twice. After his first visit in February this year, the social democrat and German noted that he found himself in the odd position of having to defend Germany and his political opposite Chancellor Merkel during a heated discussion in the Greek parliament.