NEWS

Venizelos says Greece must decide on euro membership

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos has told Greece?s political parties that they will have to take a clear decision on whether they want the country to remain in the euro or not by the time the Eurogroup meets again next week after eurozone finance ministers held back from giving the green light for a new loan package for Athens.

Speaking late on Thursday in Brussels following the end of the Eurogroup meeting, Venizelos said that Greek politicians had a ?historic responsibility? to live up to over the next few days.

The new loan agreement is due to be submitted to Parliament on Friday so MPs can vote on it on Sunday. Venizelos said a clear decision would be needed by February 15.

“Until the next Eurogroup, which will most likely convene on Wednesday, our country, our people should think and make a final strategic choice,» he said, saying a critical decision needed to be made over private sector bondholder losses (PSI).

“If we see the future of our country within the euro zone, within Europe, we should do what we have to do for the programme to be approved and for the PSI to be concluded on time before major bonds expire in March.”

The coalition government has 252 of 300 seats in Parliament and it is expected that the loan deal will pass through the House comfortably. However, the agreement contains a number of unpopular measures, such as the 22 percent reduction to the minimum wage, and some coalition MPs already said they will vote against the agreement.

It is also not clear what position the right-wing Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) will take.

?Nobody can hide behind anyone else,? said Venizelos. ?Nobody can keep pretending to be the good guy. Our choice will be between sacrifices and even bigger sacrifices.

?The are of easy choices and demagoguery is over,? added the finance minister in what appeared to be a thinly veiled attack on New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras, who had earlier made a televised address emphasising his desire for more measures that would drive growth in Greece.

The ND leader also reiterated his demand for general elections as soon as possible.

Earlier, eurozone finance minister made it clear that despite Greek party leaders agreeing to the set of measures demanded by the EU and IMF, they would not move forward the process of setting up a new bailout of at least 130 billion euros for Greece unless at least three more steps were concluded.

The government will have to set out precisely how it will find 325 million euros of savings this year so that pensions are not cut beyond the limit set by Samaras and supported by LAOS leader Giorgos Karatzaferis.

Kathimerini understands that these are likely to come from extra cuts in military expenditure and the moving forward of reductions in some public sector wages.

The head of the Eurogroup said that the eurozone will also wait to see if Greek MPs approve the loan agreement in a vote on Sunday.

Finally, he said that all the members of the coalition government would have to give a clear commitment that they would stick to the agreement even after general elections. Venizelos indicated that these would have to be written commitments.

?We have to make our decisions now,? said the finance minister.