Greece was warned on Friday that it has to make swifter progress in agreeing reforms with its lenders, as European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras agreed in Brussels on the creation of a Greek task force to work with EU experts on structural improvements.
“I don’t think we have made sufficient progress,” Juncker told reporters as he welcomed Tsipras to the Commission on Friday, echoing Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem’s comments that the two weeks following the February 20 agreement on a four-month bailout extensions between Greece and its creditors had been “wasted.”
Juncker, however, insisted that there was no scope for Greece and its eurozone partners failing to find a way to progress. “I’m totally excluding a failure… This is not a time for division. This is the time for coming together,” he said.
His comments came in the wake of German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble refusing to rule out the possibility that Greece would slip out of the single currency. “As the responsibility, the possibility to decide what happens lies only with Greece and because we don’t exactly know what those in charge in Greece are doing, we can’t rule it out,” he told an Austrian broadcaster.
In an interview with Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine due to be published on Saturday, European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici strikes a similar tone to Juncker, insisting that the option of a Greek exit should not be considered. “All of us in Europe probably agree that a Grexit would be a catastrophe – for the Greek economy, but also for the eurozone as a whole,” he said.
“If one country leaves this union, the markets will immediately ask which country is next,” Moscovici told the German magazine. “And that could be the beginning of the end.”
Juncker, however, noted in his comments to reporters before his meeting with Tsipras that the Commission can only play a limited role in the process over the next few weeks, when Athens has to agree with its creditors what reforms it will implement to secure further bailout funding.
“The Commission wants to be helpful. But the Commission is not a major player in this because all the decisions… will have to be taken by the Eurogroup,” he said.
Behind closed doors, Juncker and Tsipras agreed that a task force of Greek officials would be created in Athens to have direct contact with the EU Task Force for Greece, which provides technical assistance on structural reforms and absorbing EU funds. It is likely the Greek team will be led by a high-ranking official, possibly a minister. European Parliament President Martin Schulz, who Tsipras also met on Friday, said that there is up to 6 billion euros of EU money to use to fight youth unemployment.
“Greece has already started fulfilling its commitments… so we are doing our part and we expect our partners to do their own,” Tsipras said before his talks with Juncker. “I’m very optimistic… we will find a solution because I strongly believe that this is our common interest. I believe there is no Greek problem; there is a European problem.”