NEWS

PM set for testing week of talks

Prime Minister George Papandreou faces one of the toughest tests of his leadership and diplomatic skills next week, when he will meet with the head of the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Union’s commissioner for monetary affairs, while hoping that a rally due to take place in central Athens on Monday does not cause unrest. Papandreou, who has just completed a week of trips to various European destinations, will be heading for Brussels on Monday to meet with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. Talks between the two men are expected to focus on how Athens is progressing in improving the state of its economy and meeting the targets it has been set by the Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF. It is likely that Papandreou will also raise the issue of Greece possibly being given longer to repay the 110 billion euros in emergency loans that it is borrowing from the EU and the IMF. European Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn has indicated that the EU is prepared to consider lengthening the repayment period for Greece’s loans from three years to seven-and-a-half. This would bring Greece’s loan package in line with the one recently agreed upon for Ireland and would mean Athens repaying the last of its loan installments in 2024. Papandreou will raise the same subject with IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn when the pair hold talks in Athens on Tuesday. The Frenchman has already indicated that he is not averse to the idea of extending Greece’s repayment period if it is on track to meet the fiscal targets it has been set. On Thursday, Papandreou will meet with Rehn in Athens to brief him on the measures being taken by the PASOK government but to also discuss the issue of the loan repayment period. Despite the importance of these meetings, Papandreou will also be concerned about any fallout from the protests planned to mark the second anniversary of the murder of teenager Alexis Grigoropoulos by a policeman, which had sparked riots that attracted the attention of the international media. Government sources expressed concern that as the rally takes place a day before Strauss-Kahn’s visit, some protesters might use it as an opportunity to voice their opposition to the IMF’s presence in Greece, with the possibility that violence might break out.