NEWS

Greece staying in eurozone, insists PM

There is «zero chance» of Greece leaving the eurozone, Prime Minister George Papndreou said yesterday after suggestions by German Chancellor Angela Merkel that members should face expulsion if they do not comply with the euro’s fiscal criteria. Papandreou made his comment after meeting with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in Brussels, where the Greek premier refused to rule out the possibility of Athens turning to the International Monetary Fund for financial assistance in what is becoming an increasingly tense game of cat-and-mouse between the PASOK government and the other eurozone members, Germany in particular, who are unwilling to yet commit to the idea of lending Greece money. «Certainly, I would say there is zero possibility of [Greece] leaving the eurozone,» said Papandreou. Earlier, Merkel said that Greece «has shown a lot of courage» in adopting austerity measures to trim its public deficit but suggested that countries should be kicked out of the eurozone «as a last resort» if they flout its financial rules «again and again.» Germany has resisted efforts to conclude an agreement for Greece to receive financial assistance from some of the other eurozone members, probably in some form of bilateral loan. Merkel insisted that she would not make any «rash» decisions to give Greece help. However, the issue is expected to dominate discussions when EU leaders meet on March 25 and 26. «The European Commission has been actively working with euro-area member states on designing a mechanism of coordinated assistance,» Barroso said after his meeting with Papandreou. The Greek prime minister, however, refused to rule out the possibility of the government turning to the IMF for help if the Europeans do not offer any. «We have to keep all options over for whatever possibility,» he said. «We would certainly prefer a European solution.» Papandreou added that if EU leaders manage to reach an agreement on providing Greece with financial assistance if needed, it would encourage markets to lower the «unreasonably high interest rate, which is over 6 percent» that they are charging to take on Greek debt.