Greeks seek better terms after Spanish rescue

Greece can seek a better deal from Europe for its own rescue after Spain won lenient bailout terms, the main Greek parties said on Monday, a sign that however Greece votes this week it will be headed for a showdown with Brussels.

With days to go before the June 17 election which could decide Greece?s future in the euro zone, the Spanish accord has been dragged into a campaign being fought largely over the harsh conditions imposed under Greece?s own 130 billion euro bailout.

The radical leftwing SYRIZA party, which has campaigned on a pledge to scrap the Greek bailout altogether and demand better terms, said the Spanish deal proved that the austerity imposed by international lenders had failed.

?Developments in Spain fully vindicate us in our reading of the crisis: this is a deep structural crisis of the eurozone itself,? SYRIZA spokesman Panos Skourletis said on Monday. ?The discussions in Europe open new perspectives for Greece and the euro zone.? SYRIZA is running neck and neck with the conservative New Democracy party which helped pass the bailout in parliament and says it can improve the terms without ditching it. Polls have shown the election outcome is too close to call.

Conservative leader Antonis Samaras said the Spanish deal was proof that Greece had more to gain by negotiating with its European partners than by falling out with them.

?Just think about it, at a time when a country like Spain negotiates, some argue that we have to clash with Europe,? he said.

The overwhelming majority of Greeks want to keep the euro currency but want to be freed from the harsh austerity measures imposed as part of the bailout that rescued Athens from bankruptcy in March.

New Democracy and the PASOK socialists, which alternately ruled Greece for generations but failed in an inconclusive election on May 6 to win enough joint support to form a government, aim to persuade Greeks that a victory for SYRIZA would force Greece into collapse and ejection from the euro.

PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos said the Spanish bailout showed European leaders were preparing the ground for Greece to be pushed out of the euro if SYRIZA wins the poll.

?They are preparing a firewall to deal with whatever happens in Greece,? said Venizelos, who negotiated Greece?s bailout from his former post as finance minister, before watching his party be punished by losing two thirds of its votes last month.

The last opinion polls published before a pre-election blackout gave New Democracy a slight edge over SYRIZA, with both parties set to win about a quarter of the vote each. Party leaders warned at the weekend that a repeat of a deadlock seen after May?s vote was likely.

Greek electoral law awards a 50-seat bonus in the 300-seat parliament to the biggest party, meaning even the slightest lead could be decisive in determining who forms the next government.

With ordinary Greeks now thoroughly disillusioned after more than two years of non-stop crisis, there was some disappointment on the streets that Spain appeared to be getting a bailout deal without the harsh austerity terms imposed on Greece.

?Spain knew how to negotiate good terms for themselves,? said civil servant Yannis Telonis, 33. ?It?s too late now for us to do the same. We have failed because we were the euro zone?s guinea pig.? With Greece now in its fifth year of deep recession, unemployment running at almost 22 percent and a growing threat of social breakdown, there is pressure from all parties to ease the tough conditions of the March bailout.

SYRIZA wants to reverse a swathe of legislation passed by the previous parliament, promising to raise the minimum wage and reintroduce tougher job protection rules that were scrapped under pressure from international lenders.

New Democracy would keep the main conditions attached to the bailout but wants to win more time to hit deficit reduction targets and reverse some pension and benefit cuts.

Some Greeks see the Spanish rescue deal as a sign that, with more countries hitting crisis, European leaders are ready to allow more lenient terms.

?Since more countries are in the game, it?s good for us because we will have the grounds to negotiate over better terms,? said Eleni Karakoussi, 31, a saleswoman, who said she intended to vote for SYRIZA.

?I?m not afraid we will be forced to leave the euro zone.

I?m tired of being afraid. I only hope that we will have jobs, a way to make ends meet after June 17.? [Reuters]

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