Tuesday

20th Aug 2019

Greece and Germany trade bitter words over bailout

  • Tsipras (c) has vowed not to compromise (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Greece and Germany are entering an increasingly bitter war of words on whether Athens needs to extend its bailout programme as Friday's deadline for a deal edges closer.

Greek PM Alexis Tsipras told parliament on Tuesday (17 February) that he was working towards a deal with the eurozone but would not compromise.

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  • Wolfgang Schaeuble has been showing his irritation publicly (Photo: EPP)

The standoff has seen both sides break the unwritten rules of EU meetings and diplomacy - either by leaking documents as negotiations are ongoing or actively briefing against one another in press conferences afterwards.

Tsipras took the highly unusual move of singling out Wolfgang Schaeuble and accusing the German finance minister of having "lost his cool" on Greece.

The speech came after Monday's Eurogroup broke up in disarray after Greek officials leaked a paper meant to be signed by the Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis - the paper was soon all over Twitter.

Greece immediately rejected its uncompromising wording on continuing the same bailout programme.

Varoufakis later told press that the ill-fated paper had been handed to him by Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem just minutes before the meeting.

It replaced a more emolliently-worded paper by the European Commission that Varoufakis found "splendid" and would have signed.

Tsipras backed Varoufakis' account of the event in Tuesday’s speech and called the Eurogroup paper "provocative" and said it showed that "certain circles" in the eurozone - an apparent reference to Germany - wanted to undermine the Greek government.

The Greek PM pledged to hold firm on election promises and announced the reversal of some structural reforms. He also appeared to attempt to raise this EU leader level noting that a solution to the impasse would not come from technocrats but from "elected political leaders".

His German counterpart Angela Merkel has so far been relatively quiet on the issue, noting only that the meeting between her and Tsipras at last week's summit had been "friendly".

But the rhetoric has reached a different level when it comes to Wolfgang Schaeuble.

The German finance minister told German radio on Monday that he suspected the Greek government was indulging in a "poker game" noting that the won the election after a very "unusual election campaign".

"It's very easy to tell people that others are at fault and others must pay," he said adding that he felt sorry for Greeks as they had elected an "irresponsible" government.

On Tuesday, briefing press after a meeting of EU finance ministers, he reported directly on an exchange about Greek plans to raise the minimum wage to €750 a month.

He noted that one of the his colleagues explained to Varoufakis, "to show that it is not just about respecting Greek voters", how low the minimum wage and social benefits payments in their country was.

Varoufakis, according to Schaueble, answered "it might be the case that it is possible to live on such low payments in your country, but not in Greece".

Schaueble said it was an example of why the Eurogroup was "completely unanimous" on Greece.

His testy appearances on Greece comes after a report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung late last week drew attention to a cartoon in the official newspaper of Tsipras' political party Syriza which depicted the German finance minister in a Wehrmacht uniform saying: "We insist on the soap from your fat. We’re willing to discuss the compost from your ashes.”

Tsipras, for his part, said the sketch did not represent the government’s views.

The Eurogroup has given Greece until Friday to request an extension of its bailout programme, which runs out next week on 28 February.

Athens is making the case that the rest of the eurozone cannot ignore that Greeks have voted in a government that promised to end austerity.

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