NEWS

PM urges support of labor unions

Prime Minister George Papandreou yesterday appealed for the support of labor unionists protesting his administration’s austerity measures – stressing that the debt-ridden country was «one step from being unable to borrow» – as European Union officials urged the bloc’s leaders to offer Greece a firm pledge of aid. «We have been forced into the toughest decisions ever taken by a government in this country,» Papandreou told a boisterous congress of the General Confederation of Greek Labor in Thessaloniki. «We did it because things had reached a critical state… we found ourselves one step from being unable to borrow,» he said. In a loudly applauded speech, Papandreou declared, «We are in a state of war, battling interests both at home and outside Greece.» The premier said he wanted «workers on my side, not against me» and promised that «our efforts will pay off.» Papandreou also sent another message to Brussels, saying, «Greece has done its duty taking difficult decisions, now it’s Europe’s turn.» In Brussels, EU officials did not disagree. Two top-ranking executives called on member states to overcome their differences – despite serious reservations from economic heavyweights such as Germany – and offer Greece a concrete rescue package. «I urge the EU’s leaders to agree on this instrument as soon as possible,» European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said ahead of a scheduled summit of EU heads of state next Wednesday. «We cannot prolong the current situation any further,» he added. European Commissioner for Monetary Affairs Olli Rehn also spoke out. «It is important that the EU, in the course of the next week, comes to a more specific political conclusion about the European framework for coordinated and conditional action, if needed and required,» he said. Germany’s reluctance to commit to such a deal seemed unchanged yesterday, as a key government official said that Berlin had not dismissed the possibility of Greece appealing to the International Monetary Fund, a solution Brussels wants to avoid. «We haven’t ruled out IMF financial assistance – this question is open,» Ulrich Wilhelm, a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, told reporters. «We trust and believe that Greece can resolve its problems itself with its consolidation efforts,» he added. Addressing the Greek Parliament yesterday, Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou doused fresh speculation about Athens appealing to the IMF before Easter, which falls on April 4. «We will be roasting lamb, not appealing to the IMF,» he remarked.