NEWS

Athens awaits EU assessment

As Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou prepared for a difficult two days in Brussels, where his European Union counterparts are due to assess Greece’s progress in implementing crucial austerity measures, finance officials in Brussels, Paris and Berlin issued statements over the weekend dousing mounting speculation about a possible bailout plan for Athens. Although both Papaconstantinou and Prime Minister George Papandreou have insisted that Greece is not expecting any financial support from its European partners, they have requested that Greece be allowed to borrow additional loans at an interest rate equal, or close to, the level of that enjoyed by other EU member states. A European Commission official rebuffed reports according to which EU finance ministers have prepared a multibillion-euro bailout package for Greece. «The Commission stands ready to act if necessary. Technical work is ongoing and has not yet been concluded. All the rest is speculation,» spokesman Jonathan Todd said on Saturday. In an article published on the same day, Britain’s Guardian newspaper quoted an unnamed EC source as saying that the ministers of the 22 countries that use the euro had agreed on «coordinated bilateral contributions» in the form of loans or loan guarantees for Greece, should these be required. Senior government officials in Berlin and Paris also quashed the speculation prompted by the press report. «We are not aware that this is being planned,» a spokesman for Germany’s Finance Ministry said in a statement. «Greece is implementing its [crisis] program and we expect that it will manage alone,» the statement added, referring to a series of tax increases and cuts to holiday pay in the public sector that were voted through Greece’s Parliament last week. France’s finance minister also rebuffed the rumors. «I’m certainly not expecting any decision to be made or any button to be pressed… because it’s totally premature,» Christine Lagarde said. Meanwhile, an opinion poll published in Sunday’s Ethnos newspaper indicated that 60 percent of Greeks believe the government’s austerity measures are «necessary» though 66 percent believe them to be «unfair.»