PM’s referendum decision takes Europe by surprise

A surprise decision by Prime Minister George Papandreou to put a European Union debt deal for Greece to a referendum created shock and dismay among EU leaders Tuesday, though some — chiefly French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel — sought to limit the fallout of the move.

In a statement, Sarkozy said the referendum announcement had ?surprised all of Europe.?

?The plan adopted last Thursday, unanimously by the 17 members of the eurozone, is the only means possible to resolve Greece?s debt problems,? he said. ?Giving the people a voice is always legitimate, but the solidarity of all the eurozone countries cannot work unless every country agrees to make the necessary sacrifices.?

Sarkozy added that he and Merkel would hold emergency talks on the Greek crisis today in Cannes, where the G-20 summit is to be held.

Papandreou?s office said the PM would attend the summit. The premier spoke to Merkel earlier in the day, the statement added, noting that he explained that a decision emerging from the G-20 summit and the EU debt deal for Greece ?should be adopted by the Greek people? if the country?s austerity program is to be implemented effectively.

Papandreou is to join a working lunch in Cannes with Merkel, Sarkozy, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde.

Sources told Kathimerini that the premier had hinted to both Merkel and Sarkozy days ago that he might call a referendum. The same sources said the two leaders had been ?understanding? of the need of some type of political legitimization of Greece?s austerity drive.

The head of the Eurogroup, Jean-Claude Juncker, appeared less tolerant, noting that the country would face bankruptcy in the event of a ?no? vote on the debt deal.