Europeans to debate further aid for Greece, encourage path to reform
PARIS — Vacation is over early this year in the eurozone, with Greece and its shaky future back on the table and Spain waiting in the wings to ask for help from European bailout funds.
The political debate in Germany over the euro has resumed at a heated level, Italy is preparing for a spring election and the new Socialist government of France must come to grips with how it will meet its own deficit targets for next year, when growth is close to zero.
“September promises to be pretty dramatic in the eurozone,” said Megan Greene, director of European research at Roubini Global Economics.
The first problem for eurozone leaders is Greece.
After two rounds of legislative elections, the Greeks finally gave center-right leader Antonis Samaras enough votes to form a coalition without the leftist party Syriza, and he has spent the summer trying to find another $14.5 billion in spending cuts and new revenue over 2013 and 2014 to qualify for the next round of bailout money it needs to stay solvent.
Samaras, citing an ever deeper recession, is asking for two more years to get the economy growing and increase revenue before hitting deficit targets. Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, seems willing to consider it, because she is committed to keeping Greece in the eurozone.
But with German elections next year, there are strong voices in her coalition warning against yet another bailout — a third, for a Greece that never seems to meet its deficit targets — and who suggest that a Greek departure from the euro is no longer out of the question.
To coordinate a response to Samaras, Merkel met President Francois Hollande of France in Berlin on Thursday night for a private, working dinner. Hollande is a firm supporter of Greece remaining with the euro and a vocal opponent of a steady diet of austerity for the suffering countries of the European periphery, not to speak of his own.
In a brief news conference before the dinner, Merkel said Greece must stick to its commitments and that she was waiting for a report from the international lenders known as the troika on how Greece was performing. “We will, and I will, encourage Greece to continue on its path to reform, which has demanded a lot of the Greek people,” she said.
Merkel said Wednesday that for the European Union, Greece is “not just about economic questions, but about deeply political questions and thus also about the future of Europe as a whole.”