Austrian chancellor sides with Greece in debt row

Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann expressed solidarity with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras before meeting the leader in Athens on Wednesday in a bid to end a standoff with international creditors over a rescue package.

Faymann, a Social Democrat who has taken a relatively lenient line with Greece, told broadcaster ORF that Athens had to live up to commitments under its current bailout plan but needed support to keep it from leaving the euro zone.

“I know there were a number of proposals, also from the (creditor) institutions, that I also don’t find in order,” Faymann said in the radio interview.

“High joblessness, 30-40 percent (with) no health insurance and then raising VAT on medicines. People in this difficult situation cannot understand that.”

Faymann seemed to be wading into a row over what European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker has called misrepresentations by the Greek government over just what reforms the EU wants from Athens to unlock frozen loans.

Faymann said the alternative was fighting fraud and ensuring all Greeks pay their fair share of taxes.

Greece and Brussels have been locked in an increasingly bitter war of words as the clock ticks toward the end of June, when the current bailout accord runs out, exposing Greece to potential default that could usher it out of the currency bloc.

Faymann said it was never helpful when insults fly, adding: “I stand on the side of the Greek people who in this difficult position are being proposed more things detrimental to society.”

He said he was confident he could support Juncker’s efforts to forge an agreement by using Austria as an example of a country where workers and pensioners get affordable health care.

He acknowledged nerves were frayed but said the task was to “avoid a catastrophe”. Asked whether Greek leaders could be brought on board, he said: “I assume that someone who is elected lives up to his responsibility.” [Reuters]