French minister says euro can do without Greece

French European Affairs Minister Jean Leonetti said on Thursday the euro zone could survive even if Greece were forced out of the 17-country currency bloc.

Speaking on radio, Leonetti reiterated that if Greece failed to accept austerity measures included in a rescue package agreed last week, it would get no more aid, forcing the country into bankruptcy and meaning it would have to leave the euro.

He said Greece only accounted for 2 percent of the region’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 4 percent of its total debt, and that the region would survive.

“Greece is something we can get over, something we can manage without,» Leonetti told RTL radio.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou took euro zone leaders by surprise on Monday when he declared he would call a referendum to ask the Greek people to approve last week’s 130 billion euro rescue package.

The decision sparked fears that last week’s rescue deal was rapidly unraveling, prompting renewed fear in financial markets, and prompting euro zone leaders to call an emergency meeting with Papandreou in Cannes, southern France, ahead of a G20 summit.

The referendum may be held on December 4.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have stressed Greece will not be deciding whether to accept painful austerity measures, but on whether it wants to stay in the euro.

“We can help them, we can save them, but we can’t save people despite themselves,» Leonetti said.

“Just because the pill is bitter, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it. The patient is very sick.”

Papandreou faces a confidence vote in the Greek parliament on Friday and opponents within his ruling Socialist party have called on him to quit, raising fears that the resulting political turmoil could further endanger the rescue plan.