Wednesday

21st Feb 2024

Juncker: euro faces 'crucial' talks on Saturday

  • Juncker: 'It's anti-European to give the Greek people the idea this was an ultimatum' (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Saturday (27 June) is a "crucial" day for the eurozone, commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said on Friday, as Greece and its creditors reconvene in what is being billed as the last chance to save the country from default.

The two sides appeared as far apart as ever ahead of the talks, however.

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  • Tsipras tried, and failed, to start an EU summit debate on Greece (Photo: European Council)

German chancellor Angela Merkel urged the Greek leader to accept creditors’ “generous” proposals, while Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras spoke of “blackmail” and his Syriza party of "humiliation".

The discussions come after a tumultuous week in Brussels which saw euro finance ministers convene three times for essentially fruitless meetings.

Tsipras had been aiming to get the talks – aimed at releasing €7.2 billion in bailout money – kicked up to the highest political level to get some movement on the ultimate sticking point: debt relief for Greece.

But having met already on Monday, euro leaders refused to meet again at the end of the week.

They made it clear during their regular summit on Thursday that Saturday is the very last chance for a deal, in what has been a long-running saga of moving deadlines, proposals, and counterproposals.

Merkel, in her usual cautious style, called Saturday “decisive”.

"We have taken a step towards Greece," she said. "Now it is up to the Greek side to take a similar step."

Several other leaders, including euro states Austria, the Netherlands, Ireland and Malta indicated that patience with Greece is all but exhausted.

Speaking after the summit, Juncker said "tomorrow is a crucial day not just for Greece, but for the euro area as a whole” adding that he is "optimistic but not over-optimistic” of a positive outcome.

Among other sticking points are pension and VAT levels, with Athens saying that what its creditors - the commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) - are asking of it is "absurd".

Juncker, for his part, said the proposal is not a "take it or leave it" offer but a "basis" for negotiation.

He said the head of the eurogroup, Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, would try and bring "positions together”, but he criticised Tsipras for describing the deal as "blackmail".

"There’s no ultimatum. And it’s anti-European to give the Greek people the idea that this was an ultimatum”, said Juncker.

European Council president Donald Tusk also took Tsipras to task on his rhetoric. He said the pressure comes from a natural deadline for talks on Tuesday (30 June), when the current bailout expires and an IMF payment of €1.6 billion falls due.

"We have today three days’ time until Tuesday. It’s not political blackmail when we repeat, day after day, that we’re very close to the day when the game is over. This is not our political intent. This is fact."

He indicated Greece could end up in default and a possible exit from the eurozone through simple bad feeling.

“It’s really important to respect each other in this beause it’s all too easy to lose everything just because of bad statements and bad political will. The basis must be respect”, he noted.

A deal needs to be done on Saturday so that the Greek parliament could have a say on Sunday and the German parliament on Monday.

If there is no willingness to enter into negotiations on Saturday, officials have indicated that talks will then start on how to plan for Athens’ default.

Opinions remain divided on whether this would necessarily mean Greece exiting the eurozone, which would be considered a huge blow to the euro area and would end the "irrevocable" nature of currency membership referred to in the EU treaty.

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