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25th May 2019

EU task force in Athens denies harming Greek sovereignty

The EU task force advising the Greek government on reforms demanded by international lenders defended its legitimacy on Wednesday (26 October), saying it is not eroding the country's sovereignty, just hours after Germany demanded "permanent" foreign supervision of Athens.

Headed by a German EU official, Horst Reichenbach, the 25-strong task force was launched on 20 July, just one day ahead of an EU summit paving the way for a second Greek bail-out under strict reform demands notably from Germany, the largest contributor to the eurozone lifelines.

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  • Hospital shortages: EU bureaucrats say they want to help, not dictate Greek policy (Photo: Pinch TV)

Speaking to media in Athens on Wednesday, Reichenbach set out areas his team is focusing on: health care and public administration reforms, tax collection and increased spending of EU structural funds.

Amid reports of shortages of medicine, hospital equipment and blood, the German official said his team was ready to help the Greek health ministry in "reducing the expenditure for pharmaceuticals" because "Greece has much higher expenditure for pharma than other member states."

Reichenbach insisted that his work was not to "rubberstamp" or "criticise" plans by the Greek ministers, but to facilitate expertise and help from the EU commission and member states. For instance, experts from France and Germany could help Greek magistrates in changing the system so as to accelerate court cases, he said.

"Clearly, concerns about sovereignty should be taken seriously," he said in response to a question. "The justification of the task force lies in the fact that the Prime Minister of Greece has asked for such support from the European Commission," he explained.

"If it had been the commission who took the initiative and imposed it on Greece I would feel much less convinced this is the way to go ahead," he added.

The task force was however a plan floated by EU commission chief Barroso and "supported by the 23-24 June European council consultations with Prime Minister Papandreou," according to a statement by the EU commission itself.

Earlier on Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spelled out her vision for the future in Greece: even more foreign supervision.

"It's not enough that the troika [EU-IMF-ECB] comes and goes every three months. It would be desirable to have a permanent supervision in Greece," she told the Bundestag before flying to Brussels where she intended to bring this up.

A spokesman for the Greek mission in Brussels refused to comment on the Merkel statements and only said that the EU task force was asked for by his Prime Minister.

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