Eurozone’s poorer nations take hard line on Greece

Eurozone’s poorer nations take hard line on Greece

The eurozone's poorer former communist nations, having themselves endured painful market reforms and austerity programs, are taking a hard line on Greece after its people voted to reject bailout terms.

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia have long insisted they are too poor to pay for the mistakes made by wealthier Greece and that it should have stuck to the reforms and austerity measures laid out in its massive 240 billion euro ($273 billion) bailout.

"I hear some Greeks have pensions over 1,000 euros ($1,100) a month. That's outrageous. I refuse to pay for their debt while they are making fortunes compared to my salary," Bratislava waitress Martina Lelovicova told AFP on Monday in a country where the average monthly salary is 880 euros.

"It's good news for the eurozone. Greeks should leave it, this will only make it healthier," a Bratislava entrepreneur in his thirties who wished to remain anonymous told AFP of Sunday's Greek referendum result.

Slovak Finance Minister Peter Kazimir – the first Eurogroup minister to warn that the Greek 'No raises the specter of a "Grexit" or exit from the euro – told reporters: "With the result of the referendum, a possible crisis scenario, the gradual withdrawal of Greece from the eurozone, is unfolding."

Slovakia, an ex-communist nation of 5.4 million people that joined the eurozone in 2009, has suffered stubbornly high joblessness despite brisk economic growth in recent years.

Its leftist Prime Minister Robert Fico insists "Slovakia will not be harmed as a result of Greece and its decision to stay or leave the single currency union," as Bratislava "did not give any cash, only our guarantees" as part of previous Greek bailouts.

But not all poorer eurozone members have nothing to lose: Estonian President Toomas Hendrick Ilve tweeted Monday that "Greece's creditors (are) not just banks."

"Eurozone countries poorer than Greece stand to lose up to 4.2 percent GDP," he wrote.

Prime Minister Taavi Roivas for his part said Greece "now only has bad and worse choices left" and reforms "are unavoidable."

"We expect the Greek government to understand the situation and show decisiveness and action within hours," he added.

Having broken free from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1990-91, tiny Estonia and Latvia joined the eurozone in 2011 and 2014 respectively, followed by neighbor Lithuania in January this year.

All three Baltic states implemented drastic austerity measures to recover from deep recessions triggered by the 2008-09 global financial crisis, paving the way to eurozone entry and stable economic growth, now around three percent in the region.

Estonia, the eurozone's smallest member since 2011, approved an initial Greek bailout but has since said 'No and insists that all eurozone members adopt its strict fiscal discipline.

Tallinn boasts the eurozone's lowest debt-to-GDP ratio of 10.6 percent.

"Estonians don't really understand the Greek attitude. We are used to saving and living frugally," Merit Kopli, editor in chief of Estonia's leading Postimees daily, told AFP.

Maie Mets, a 72-year-old pensioner, said: "As I understand it, the Greek standard of living is higher than ours here in Estonia. It is only normal that people pay their debts."

Latvia was hit hard by the global financial crisis, suffering the world's deepest recession when GDP shrank by nearly a quarter over two years.

Yet the nation of some two million bounced back after implementing austerity cuts under the terms of a 7.5 billion euro international bailout it secured to avert bankruptcy.

"When we went through the international bailout, did anyone come to rescue us?" asked Zenija Lace, a 61-year-old Riga office worker.

"I have no sympathy for the Greeks. They should have started paying taxes long ago. If they want money from Europe, they should have started saving!" added 59-year-old Riga businesswoman Brigita Petersone.

"How is it that we could endure all of it and they can't?"


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