Barroso urges Greece to deliver on bailout pledges


EUROPEAN COMMISSION president José Manuel Barroso took a swipe at critics of Greece as he warned its government not to make empty promises to deal with its mounting fiscal problems.

In Athens last night for talks with Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras, Mr Barroso said Greece’s best hope for a return to economic growth was to maintain its membership of the single currency.

“Staying in the euro is the best chance to avoid worse hardship and difficulties to the Greek people, namely for those in a more vulnerable position,” Mr Barroso said in televised remarks.

His meeting with Mr Samaras comes amid renewed talk among senior German government figures – among them deputy chancellor Philipp Rösler – about Greece going back to the drachma.

Although Mr Barroso did not specify to whom he was referring, he urged Greece and all other European countries to show the same resolve to execute important commitments made to the country.

“Sometimes I fear that some people have not yet understood that we are all in the same boat. We are really all in the same boat in Europe,” he said.

The commission chief was speaking at a press event with Mr Samaras at which neither took questions.

Mr Barroso’s visit to Athens – his first since mid-2009 – coincides with the return to the city of inspectors from the EU-IMF “troika”.

The Samaras administration is struggling to find €11.5 billion in new cutbacks required under the second international bailout.

Although the prime minister said his government was committed to implementing the terms of the rescue programme, talks yesterday between the three coalition parties broke up without agreement. They will meet again next Monday.

Mr Barroso said Mr Samaras told him that the government would expedite structural reforms and privatisations and would intensify the battle against tax evasion.

While saying he was reassured by this pledge, Mr Barroso said implementation was crucial and made the point repeatedly.

“The key word here is: deliver. Deliver. Deliver. Deliver. The main issue is implementation to deliver results. To maintain the trust of your peers and international partners, delays must end,” he said.

“Words are not enough. Actions are much more important.”

With Greece’s membership of the euro under increasing threat, Mr Barroso said he recognised that many Greeks felt without hope for the plight of the country.

“Many are making extremely difficult sacrifices and many people ask why they should do more. I understand those concerns and I agree that some of the efforts seem unfair,” he said.

“But I ask people to recognise the other alternatives, which will be much more difficult for Greece and will affect even more the most vulnerable in the Greek society.”

On Bloomberg television yesterday, a senior euro zone official dismissed a spate of reports saying another round of debt restructuring was in prospect for Greece.

“I cannot understand why anybody should be talking about restructuring or any other such measures,” said Thomas Wieser, president of the Euro Working Group, which prepares meetings of the euro zone finance ministers.

“I would regard any question of what should be changed with the programme as being completely premature. There is very strong political will to do whatever it takes to bring the programme back within the parameters.”

Officials say no determination about the next move will be made until the troika completes its assessment. However, it is readily acknowledged within the troika and by the Greek government that the second bailout plan is well off track.

Any further round of debt restructuring could see the European Central Bank bear losses on its holdings of Greek bonds or other euro zone countries writing down their loans to Greece.