NEWS

Crisis is opportunity, says PM

Prime Minister George Papandreou attempted to hit a note of optimism yesterday, saying the economic crisis was an opportunity for a Greek «rebirth,» despite bond spreads reaching new record levels and one rating agency downgrading government notes to junk status. «Let us bring about the country’s rebirth,» he said in an address to PASOK’s parliamentary group. «It is now or never.» Papandreou spoke to MPs before Standard & Poor’s downgraded Greece’s long-term sovereign credit ratings to BB+ from BBB+ and its short-term ratings to B from A2. The downgrade worsened the mood within the government, which is still in negotiations with representatives of the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank over the 45-billion-euro support mechanism that Greece has called on. The premier had earlier tried to focus his deputies’ attention on the tough road ahead. «Let us stop worrying about the bond spreads and pay attention to the reforms and changes that need to be made.» He was equally forceful with those that oppose the involvement of the EU, and the IMF in particular, in the rescue package. «Our guardians will only leave when we have put our country in order.» Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou also delivered a blunt message to the Socialist deputies. «During the next three years, the most difficult fiscal readjustment that this country has ever seen will take place,» he said, adding that «when you owe money, you cannot be free.» Papaconstantinou insisted that the deal with the IMF and the EU would soon be finalized and the first installment of loan money would be in place so that Greece could cover 9 billion euros’ worth of bonds that mature on May 19. Sources said yesterday that Papandreou intends to submit the terms of the agreement, which will include the government agreeing to take further austerity measures, to Parliament for ratification. Other eurozone members will also turn to their lawmakers for approval, in their case, so the funds for Greece can be released. Germany could approve its 8.4-billion-euro share of the aid package by May 7, a German government official said yesterday, as a poll carried out for Die Welt daily indicated that 57 percent of Germans feel that giving Greece financial assistance would be a «bad idea.» Both houses of the German parliament must give the go-ahead for the funds to be released. French deputies are due to vote on May 4 on whether to approve 6.3 billion euros in loans.