PM puts on brave face, rejects bailout

As concern grew in Athens that the government will not be able to convince the European Union next month that its austerity measures are working, Prime Minister George Papandreou insisted yesterday that Greece is not seeking financial aid from the EU or anyone else but simply wants support for its fiscal policies. «We are not looking for bailouts,» said Papandreou at the Policy Forum, a gathering of center-left parties in London. «We are simply saying that we have a program… and we need support for this program.» He added that Greece wants to be able to borrow money «on the same terms as other countries in the EU and the eurozone.» The premier also sought to dispel the theory that Greece was the only country with a problem and that it had been brought about by its own recklessness. «Yes, the previous Greek government was reckless,» he said. «But it’s a fallacy to say that the Greeks are reckless because that would simply mean that the problem is a problem of DNA.» Greece received the backing of Jose Luis Zapatero, the prime minister of Spain, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU. «He has the trust of all the European governments,» he said of Papandreou. Britain’s Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, who used to be an EU trade commissioner, praised the Greek prime minister’s «calm, unflappable performance and person.» «It doesn’t reassure the markets… but it gives us tremendous confidence and faith in you and your government to solve the problems inherited,» he said. For all of Papandreou’s efforts to portray an image of calm abroad, it appears that there is considerable concern within the Cabinet that Greece will not be able to convince the EU next month that it is making progress on reducing its debt and deficit. PASOK has already taken steps to improve its public finances by chopping public servants’ wages and upping taxes but Athens has been given until March 16 to prove that this is beginning to have an impact or else Brussels will demand more measures. Sources said that a number of ministers are now expressing fears that the government will have nothing to show for its efforts next month and that the government might have to pre-empt the EU by announcing extra austerity measures itself. Government spokesman Giorgos Petalotis said that a rise in VAT is not on the cards «for now.»

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