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2nd Mar 2024

Greece tries to save face in EU debt deal

  • Tsipras (l) and Juncker in Brussels after a week of harsh rhetoric in the eurozone (Photo: European Commission)

Greece is to set up its own taskforce to balance out the much-maligned team of EU experts monitoring the country's reform progress, as the delicate dance of words, language, and deeds continues between Athens and its creditors.

The announcement followed a meeting between prime minister Alexis Tsipras and Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on Friday (13 March).

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It also came after a week of high-octane rhetoric which saw Tsipras say Berlin had a moral duty to pay Greece WWII reparations and the German finance minister say Greece could accidently leave the eurozone.

Juncker, a veteran of EU politics, warned Tsipras that the commission is “not a major player” in talks, but also said “this is not a time for division. This is the time for coming together”.

Tsipras, for his part, said he is optimistic that a solution would be found. But he maintained his publicly tough line, adding "there is no Greece problem; there is a European problem”.

The leftist politician has been trying to square the demands of his hardline backbenchers with the equally tough demands of his creditors since becoming PM in late January.

After much back and forth, the government on 20 February agreed to extend a €240 billion bailout until June but it has been wrangling over what reforms it would have to carry out to get the next tranche of money.

Technical talks only began on Wednesday this week in Brussels and Athens. And only after it became clear Greece would not get more money unless the situation on the ground was assessed by commission officials once more - despite these experts being singled out for criticism by Greek politicians.

But now Greece is to set up its own taskforce.

"The Greek government will also create a taskforce to work closely with the commission's taskforce," a commission spokesperson said after Friday's meeting. It would act as a "counterpart" to the commission team.

He refused to comment on how much scope commission experts are being given to work, with the return of EU officials to Greece being one of the most public reminders of the concessions Tsipras has had to make since coming to power.

In a bid to tone down the political tension of recent days, the spokesperson also refused to say if Juncker had brought up Tsipras' demands for WWII compensation from Germany.

"I think that we have to give some space and some time for the experts. This is their moment," he said.

Juncker and Tsipras also spoke about how to boost growth and jobs in Greece. As a result of their meeting, euro commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis will head up efforts to "to help Greece make best use of EU funds" to achieve this.

The commission now also speaks of a "humanitarian crisis" in Greece, using the same language as the Tsipras government. This follows linguistic changes such as now calling the lenders’ "troika" - hated in Greece - "the institutions".

But other language is evolving too. German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble spoke for the first time of "Grexident" - Greece accidently leaving the euro - on Thursday, saying it can't be ruled out.

Meanwhile, a ZDF poll in Germany showed that a majority of Germans (52%) believe Greece should leave the single currency. Two weeks ago, 41 percent felt this way.

Recent media reports also indicated that chancellor Angela Merkel faced a much bigger rebellion by her CDU party over last month's vote in the Bundestag on extending Greece's bailout - something averted following a personal intervention by Schaeuble.

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