NEWS

Minister asks top EU officials for mediation

In a letter sent to Eurogroup Chairman Jean-Claude Juncker, European Monetary and Economic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn and European Central Bank Chairman Jean-Claude Trichet on Saturday, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos called for the EU to step in and display a united European front following a flurry of demands by several eurozone states that Athens provide collateral in exchange for their contributions to a multi-billion-euro loan package.

In his letter to the three EU officials, Venizelos conveyed clear frustration at the demands by Austria, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Slovakia. He noted that Greece had displayed ?the greatest possible good will and flexibility in order for the July 21 decisions to be immediately and fully implemented,? referring to the bailout package agreement reached in Brussels last month. The requests by the four member states followed a complex bilateral deal hammered out between Greece and Finland last week.

Venizelos, who is also Greece?s deputy prime minister, indicated in his letter that ?technical solutions? could be found without stating explicitly whether these would resemble the Finnish deal. But he stressed that the EU officials needed to give out a strong message to global markets. ?Technical solutions are quite easy to find, as long as the credibility and effectiveness of the program are not affected,? Venizelos wrote. ?The key issue however is entirely political and must be treated as such so that clear and positive messages are sent out to the global markets and to European nations,? the letter added.

The appeal by the minister came as auditors from the European Commission, ECB and International Monetary Fund prepare for a new round of talks with government officials in Athens ahead of the scheduled release of the next tranche of EU-IMF aid to Greece in September. Venizelos, who is to meet with labor union leaders on Monday before giving a press conference, has stressed the government?s determination to slash the budget deficit and boost growth, though on Friday he conceded that the economy would contract by at least 4.5 percent this year.

With speculation about snap polls mounting as the government fails to hit fiscal targets, Prime Minister George Papandreou told the Sunday newspaper Real News that such an eventuality was out of the question. ?Citizens want change, not elections,? he said.