Tuesday

21st Feb 2017

Juncker: Greek euro exit would be 'manageable'

  • Juncker: works 17 hours of 24 and spends another two of them reading poetry (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Jean-Claude Juncker, the chairman of the euro-using countries' club, the Eurogroup, has joined the ranks of people who say it would be OK if Greece left the euro.

Juncker spoke out on Greece in an interview with German TV channel, WRD, on Monday (5 August), in which he also revealed that he works 17 hours a day, but leaves "one or two hours" for reading literature, such as German poet Rainer Maria Rilke.

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He said that "from today's perspective, it [a Greek exit] would be manageable but that does not mean it is desirable."

He added that it will not happen "at least until the end of the autumn" and that if it does, he would know about it from government sources 48 hours before the media finds out.

German economy minister Philipp Rosler in late July already said the prospect of a Greek exit has "lost its terror," while local leaders in Bavaria said Greece should go before the end of the year.

Juncker distanced himself from the German point of view despite his own remarks.

He said some German politicians might not care what happens to the "little people" in Greece and that ordinary Germans "talk about Greece as if this were a people who cannot be respected."

"Perhaps this is the case with Mr Rosler. I do not care ... It would be good if more people in Europe would shut up more often."

The Juncker interview, posted on the Luxembourg government website on Tuesday, comes amid more bad news for Greece.

Its finance minister, Yannis Stournaras, told national press on Tuesday the government still has to agree on €4 billion of cuts to get the next tranche of its bailout.

He noted that he will probably fire more public sector workers and speed up asset sell-offs, with items such as railways, the lottery, an airport and state gas companies likely to go under the hammer.

"The numbers are not easy to find ... We must stay alive until Europe gives a complete solution on the problem of the eurozone," he said.

Stournaras' ideas were immediately savaged by the Democratic Left party, a ruling coalition partner, which called them a "fiasco," and by Syriza, the left-wing opposition party, which dubbed them a "crime."

For its part, US ratings agency Standard & Poor also on Tuesday painted a grim picture of the Greek economy.

It said in a note that Greece is locked in a vicious circle in which its GDP will contract by up to 10 percent in 2012 and 2013, in part due to the very austerity measures designed to avoid a default.

"The fiscal adjustments, if implemented, will in our view prolong the contraction of the economy, leading to a further loss of popular support for future fiscal and structural reforms and hence weakening the new government's already tentative mandate," it said.

It added that Greeks are continuing to pull out money from national banks, that banks are not lending to businesses and that tax collection is "well below target."

For their part, officials in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) - one of the three lenders behind the bailout, together with the EU and the European Central Bank (ECB) - told the Wall Street Journal that drastic moves might be needed to stave off bankruptcy.

The IMF sources indicated the ECB and eurozone treasuries should consider writing off another €17 billion of Greek debt and that the EU bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, might need to lend Greek banks €50 billion in a way that keeps the new loan off Greek national books.

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