ECB’s Asmussen douses talk of third bailout for Greece

European Central Bank official Joerg Asmussen attempted on Wednesday to douse talk of a third Greek bailout or further debt relief as Greece’s plight became a leading topic in Germany after Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble admitted that Athens would need more loans next year.

After meeting Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, Asmussen, a German who sits on the ECB’s executive board, suggested that any discussion of more assistance should be put off until next spring, when it will be clear if Greece has achieved a primary surplus in 2013.

“Euro-area member states will consider additional measures and additional assistance once Greece has reached a primary surplus on an annual basis, provided that the program is fully implemented,” said the ECB official.

“If all these aspects [are in place] and the debt at this point is deemed still to be too high, then we will consider additional measures inter alia further reductions of the interest rate of the Greek loan facility and the co-financing of the EU structural funds.”

Asmussen also met with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Bank of Greece Governor Giorgos Provopoulos. Sources said the latter told him that some 8 billion euros remaining from Greece’s 50-billion-euro bank recapitalization program will be enough to cover any capital shortages exposed by stress tests later this year.

The ECB official arrived in Athens as the debate about Greece’s future intensified in Germany, where federal elections are due in under a month. In the wake of Schaeuble saying Athens would need a third bailout, the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens demanded that he clarify his stance on Greece in parliament. The government played down Schaeuble’s comments.

“There is no new situation. Nothing has changed,” Schaeuble’s spokesman Martin Kotthaus said. “Our position remains that we will assess where Greece stands in 2014 and whether additional measures may be needed.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel made similar comments in an interview. “I can’t say today what kind of sums might be necessary,” she said. “Only in the middle of next year will we be able to say.”