Tuesday

19th Feb 2019

Brussels denies talk of Greek euro exit

The European Commission has denied that there is any ongoing discussion by the EU executive of a possible Greek exit from the euro after the Greek commissioner, Maria Damanaki, raised the issue on Wednesday.

"You have to see the comments of Maria Damanaki as intended to convince her countrymen and countrywomen of the necessity of pushing ahead with reforms to increase the competitiveness of the country and budgetary consolidation to put public finances on more sure footing," commission spokeswoman Amelia Torres told reporters on Thursday.

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  • Damanaki's comment prompted a fresh round of speculation on Greece and the euro (Photo: aranjuez1404)

The previous day, the Greek commissioner set off a fresh wave of conjecture in markets and the media on the subject after she said an exit was "on the table".

"The scenario of Greece being distanced from the euro is now on the table, as are ways to do this. I am obliged to speak openly. We have a historic responsibility to see the dilemma clearly," she said in a speech.

"Either we agree with our creditors on a programme of tough sacrifices and results, undertaking our responsibilities to our past or we return to the drachma. Everything else is of secondary importance."

The commission has since attempted to downplay her remarks, with Torres describing them as "a figure of speech"

"There is no discussion at the commission or the eurogroup to contemplate what I do not even want to mention because it would dignify speculation," she continued.

"There is a job to do and we expect Greece to do it."

She later clarified to EUobserver that she could not say whether there was any discussion about the matter beyond the EU executive or eurogroup of states.

"I cannot speak for anywhere, but the only place I know where this discussion is happening is in the press," she said.

The denial is the second public disavowal this month by EU officials of the possibility of a Greek exit.

On 8 May, after an article in Spiegel Online said that the German newssite had seen Greek government documents regarding plans to leave the euro, Jean-Claude Juncker, the chair of the eurogroup, denied the report. German government spokesman Steffen Seibert also denied European talks on the subject and senior Greek officials also rubbished the idea.

Meanwhile on Thursday, the Greek prime minister was said to be considering a reshuffle of his cabinet to include members of the conservative opposition if they were to back his latest round of spending cuts and privatisations.

Greek daily Kathimerini, quoting unnamed government sources, reported that Prime Minister George Papandreou is considering appointing "well-respected personalities" from other parties to key government posts in return for their support.

The opposition New Democracy does not support the new measures, a position the European Commission has urged the party to reconsider. Although the ruling Pasok party has a majority in the parliament, several MPs and ministers have criticised the austerity programme.

Anxious about the level of support in the government for the measures, EU leaders have told Athens that it must cobble together a cross-party consensus for the programme in the same way that was achieved in Portugal if the country is to receive further bail-out cash.

Greek President Karolos Papoulias has called an emergency meeting of political party leaders for Friday.

Athens however denied that it was considering holding a referendum on the new austerity measures after two papers reported on Wednesday that the cabinet had discussed such an option. On Thursday, the head of the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises, Dimitris Daskalopoulos called for the government to hold such a referendum in order to give the government a fresh mandate.

Separately, on Wednesday, some 10,000 people crammed into Syntagma Square in front of the Greek parliament in a Spanish-style ‘Indignant' protest against the government. Similar protests, organised on social networking sites rather than by the traditional unions and political parties sprung up in the cities of Thessaloniki, Patra, Larissa, Volos, Rethymno, Hania, Ioannina, and Iraklio.

Since 15 May, Spanish young people have peacefully camped out in public squares across the country, describing themselves as ‘Indignados', or indignant ones, angry at the soaring levels of unemployment.

Although their Greek equivalents were less willing to camp out overnight. Protesters were due to return to Syntagma Square Thursday evening.

Less peacefully on Thursday, doctors and hospital staff clashed with riot police after attempting to force their way into the Health Ministry. Police used pepper spray against the protesters although no injuries or arrests occurred.

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