The German and Greek finance ministers met in Berlin Thursday, but made no progress toward settling the demand from Athens’ new leftist government to restructure the country’s massive bailouts.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said afterwards that he and Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis had agreed to disagree about Greece’s call to end strict austerity measures imposed by Berlin and international lenders in exchange for nearly $300 billion in loans over the last several years.
Varoufakis contradicted Schaeuble’s comment, telling reporters, “We didn’t even agree to disagree.”
Varoufakis said the two officials did not discuss changing Greece’s repayment schedule or the possibility of writing off some of the debt.
Rather, the Greek official said they talked about an Athens proposal to create a bridge loan program lasting until May. Greece wants the limited financing to keep its banks solvent and give the newly-elected leftist government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras time to negotiate bailout changes with its international lenders.
“What we request at this stage is perhaps the most precious of commodities – time,” Varoufakis said. “A short space of time, during which our government can present to our partners, to the International Monetary Fund, to the European Central Bank, to the European Commission, comprehensive proposals as well as a road-map for the very short term. We call this a bridging program, for the medium term and indeed for the long term.”
Germany, the biggest economic force in Europe’s 19-nation euro currency zone, has adamantly opposed Greece’s call to change the terms of the bailouts.
Schaeuble said he “was unable to hide” his skepticism” about the Greek plans, and that some of the measures do not go in the right direction.
Tsipras, back in Athens after his own meetings in several European capitals this week, told members of his ruling Syriza party that it is time to “put an end once and for all” to the European Union’s austerity policies.
The Greek leader vowed that Athens “won’t take orders anymore, especially orders through emails. Greece is no longer the miserable partner who listens to lectures to do its homework. Greece has its own voice.”
(Photo: Greek finance ministry)