Saturday

4th Feb 2023

Merkel downplays budget tsar idea

  • Merkel. Greece was not officially on the agenda, but formed a heavy backdrop to the summit (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

German leader Angela Merkel on Monday (30 January) spoke of her "frustration" at the slow pace of reform in Greece but avoided direct talk of imposing fiscal control from Brussels - a German idea which sparked fury in Athens over the weekend.

Speaking after a summit with her EU counterparts in Brussels, Merkel said Athens' slow pace in implementing measures in return for bail-out money had put the idea of increased supervision back at the top of the political agenda.

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She noted that if EU and International Monetary Fund (IMF) - officials tasked with monitoring Greece's progress - were able to report that everything is "on track" then "we would not be having this discussion again."

But the chancellor was careful not to mention a veto-wielding EU budget commissioner specifically in charge Greece - a highly controversial German idea that came to light over the weekend.

Instead she played down the novelty of the concept, referring to conclusions by eurozone leaders in October last year where it was agreed that there should be a "monitoring capacity on the ground" for the duration of the EU-IMF programme in Greece.

Reading directly from those conclusions, the chancellor noted that this was a "monitoring agreement back then" and we are now looking at how we can make it "more effective."

"Therefore, in terms of quality it is nothing new" and it is made in the "spirit" of getting Greece back on track.

She also made an oblique reference to the pressure from her own backbenchers and liberal coalition partners when it comes to being tough on Greece, noting that leaders of countries lending money to Athens "have our parliaments at home and we ourselves also want successes."

Unreasonable and undemocratic

France's Nicolas Sarkozy, who was the first of the leaders to give a briefing after the short summit, defended the chancellor saying it was "completely normal" to keep checking on Greece's progress but said there is no question of putting the country under tutelage.

"It is not a position that was expressed, or still less defended by Chancellor Merkel," he said.

He added that controlling a country from outside would not be "reasonable ... democratic ... [or] effective."

Ahead of the meeting, the commissioner-for-Greece idea had caused division among EU leaders. While supported by Sweden, it was openly questioned by others such as Luxembourg and Austria.

The next meeting dealing with Athens is due later this week at finance minister level.

The pressure is mounting on Greece to secure a deal with private bond holders to take a loss on their investments - a pre-condition for a second EU-IMF bail-out, with Germany having to put up most of the loans among euro states.

If the bailout is not secured in time, Athens will not manage to meet a commitment to repay €14.5 billion due mid-March.

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