Greek plea for 'breathing space' falls on deaf ears for now
By Honor Mahony
Greece's request for 'breathing space' will go unanswered for at least another month as its lenders say they are determined to wait for a formal assessment of its reform progress before granting Athens any leeway on its bailout programme.
The blunt message was delivered in person by eurogroup Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday (22 August) in Athens.
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"I have to underline this will depend on the findings of the troika mission and we have to discuss the length of the period and other dimensions," Juncker said in reference to Greek hopes to be allowed a further two years to reach budget targets.
While noting that he was on Greece's side and condemning EU politicians who continue to speculate about Greece's exit from the eurozone, Juncker said it was the country's "last chance" to avoid bankruptcy.
The troika report - put together by experts from EU commission, the ECB and the IMF and due out late September - will also influence the more immediate decision of whether Athens gets paid the next tranche of its €130bn bailout.
For his part, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said that Greeks – who are witnessing their country’s fifth year of recession – “want light at the end of the tunnel.”
Promising that "credibility" will soon be restored, he said that the privatization programme – long a point of criticism for lenders – will be widened and that an €11.7bn austerity package is near to being finalized.
Samaras has also being putting in some very public diplomatic spadework for his beleaguered country.
He told Bild - Germany’s most widely-read newspaper and fervent guardian of the public purse – that a deadline extension would not mean more German taxpayers’ money.
“We require no additional money. All we want is a little room to breathe, to get the economy going and to increase government revenues. More time does not automatically mean more money.”
He left a similar message in Thursday’s edition of the left-leaning Sueddeutsche Zeitung
“The Germans will get their money back. I am guaranteeing that personally. And all the others will also get their money back. We will fulfill our obligations fully.”
He also noted that his country will be “broke” if it does not receive the next slice of the bailout.
The Greek leader has two more important meetings this week, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday and France’s Francois Hollande on Saturday.
Merkel herself is facing a political tightrope as she tries to keep Greece in the eurozone while facing down political allies increasingly unhappy at sending money to Athens.