Austria grumbles about Greece

With tensions between Greece and Germany rising this week over ways to solve the eurozone’s sovereign debt problems, Austria threatened to block its share of the next transfer of aid funds to Athens unless the Greek government meets deficit-cutting goals agreed upon six months ago with the European Union and International Monetary Fund. Austrian Finance Minister Josef Proell said in Vienna that he lacked assurances from Greece to commit to the payment. He toned down his remarks later, telling journalists in Brussels that Austria was prepared to meet its pledge to Greece and that Greece was «on a good path.» «We are getting indications that the Greeks can’t stick to their plan in a sufficient manner, in particular on the revenue side,» Proell said according to a government e-mail that confirmed remarks made after a cabinet meeting yesterday. «The data we have at the moment doesn’t give any reason to approve the December tranche from the Austrian point of view.» Talking to reporters later in Brussels before a meeting of euro-area finance ministers, Proell said, «Greece is on a good path – I want to say that explicitly – but apparently isn’t exactly on course.» Greek Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou refused to comment yesterday on reports that Austria might withhold its contribution. Meanwhile in Luxembourg, Finance Minister Luc Frieden said there is «no reason» to hold up the next tranche of aid to Greece. Austria’s comments came a day after Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou criticized Chancellor Angela Merkel’s proposals to force bondholders to shoulder more of the burden from bailouts. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble rejected Papandreou’s remarks. «When I heard the comments by the Greek prime minister I thought, with all due respect, that Greece has enjoyed a lot of European and German solidarity,» he said. «But solidarity is not a one-way street. That shouldn’t be forgotten in Greece.» On Monday, Merkel attacked her predecessor, Social Democrat Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his Finance Minister Hans Eichel, for allowing Greece into the eurozone. The SPD, now in opposition, acted irresponsibly, she said.