NEWS

Mixed messages on prospects

As Greece braces for a critical week during which foreign auditors are expected to return to Athens and decide whether to release a sixth installment of rescue funding on which the country?s solvency depends, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos indicated over the weekend that a series of meetings in Washington had provided a ?very clear message of support? for Athens.

Meanwhile, comments by International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde suggested that there was still skepticism about Greece?s efforts to curb its huge deficit.

?The message was very clear: Greece is and will always be a member of the euro,? Venizelos said late Saturday after talks with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaueble and his counterparts from Italy, France and Belgium.

But late Sunday, a few hours before a scheduled meeting with Venizelos, comments attributed to Lagarde smacked of impatience. ?If the Greeks do not want our advice, we can?t do anything for them,? the IMF chief was quoted as saying.

Venizelos however suggested that the government?s new austerity push had clinched the support of the IMF, European Commission and European Central Bank — Greece?s foreign creditors, known as the troika. ?Now the troika will return, the sixth installment will be disbursed and the decisions of July 21 will be implemented,? Venizelos said, referring to a second bailout package for Greece, hammered out by EU leaders in July but yet to be ratified.

In a bid to ensure that auditors would return to Athens and finish an audit on which an 8-billion-euro tranche of rescue funding depends, the government last week fleshed out draft legislation for a controversial new property tax. That bill is to go to Parliament on Monday for a vote expected to be very close as ruling PASOK has only 154 of the 300 parliamentary seats.

In what appeared to be an appeal to Greek politicians to back the vote and citizens to take it on the chin, Venizelos called for consensus and social calm. ?A climate of domestic stability, consensus and participation must prevail,? he said.

According to an opinion poll published in Kathimerini on Sunday, two-thirds of Greeks want the country to remain in the euro, though 60 percent believe the country is likely to default in the near future.