NEWS

PM to pursue more talks with European leaders

Prime Minister George Papandreou is likely to follow up his visits to Germany and Finland this week with talks with other European leaders as he tries to argue Greece’s case for better loan conditions, sources said.

Papandreou returned to Athens on Thursday after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finnish Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi but the feeling in government circles was that Athens managed to attract only faint support for its bid to lengthen the repayment period for its 110-billion-euro loan package and have the interest rate lowered.

Both Merkel and Kiviniemi failed to commit fully to the restructuring of Greece’s bailout deal and the government is now convinced that its request will have to be part of the negotiations for a comprehensive package to tackle the eurozone debt crisis, which will be the subject of discussion when European Union leaders meet on March 11 and 24-25.

Nevertheless, Papandreou feels that he will have to argue Greece’s case before then in head-to-head meetings with other European leaders. Sources said that the Greek premier is likely to fly to France for talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy as part of this effort.

Sarkozy and Merkel proposed earlier this month that eurozone countries commit to the «competitiveness pact,» which proposes retirement ages be linked to life expectancy in individual countries and that wages not be linked to inflation. A number of countries, including Luxembourg, Austria, the Netherlands and Belgium have expressed opposition to the measures and Athens fears that if the Franco-German pact is rejected, the effort to find a comprehensive deal will collapse, leaving Greece somewhat cut adrift.

Sources said that Papandreou sensed during his trip that there is considerable skepticism in Europe about Greece’s ability to meet its targets and repay the money it has borrowed. As a result, he stressed both in Germany and Finland that Athens intends to repay «every last cent» of the loans it received.

Meanwhile, nine people are due to face charges in connection with relatively minor clashes during Wednesday’s anti-austerity protest in Athens. Some 30,000 people took part in the rally.