Euro zone leaders to hold crisis talks on Cyprus

Finance ministers of 17 countries to meet on Sunday as Cypriot MPs close in on deal

Fri, Mar 22, 2013, 20:39

Finance ministers of the 17-nation euro zone will hold talks on Sunday on the bailout crisis in Cyprus.

The meeting has been scheduled as Cypriot leaders said they were closing in on a deal to raise billions of euros demanded by the Eu ropean Union in return for a bailout to avert a financial meltdown.

MPs are due to vote this evening on a raft of new measures they hope will qualify the country for a bailout package and avoid financial ruin next week.

Cyprus needs to find a way to raise the €5.8 billion to qualify for €10 billion in rescue loans from other euro zone countries and the International Monetary Fund.

The plan needs approval from euro zone and IMF and that remained elusive. Euro zone officials said they had not seen all the details and would have to discuss whatever final plan Cyprus presents.

“The next few hours will determine the future of this country,” said government spokesman Christos Stylianides.

Cyprus has had to come up with the new plan after lawmakers rejected a scheme that would have seized up to 10 per cent of people’s bank deposits.

The country needs to have the plan in place by Monday, when the Europe an Central Bank has said it will cut off emergency support to the banks. That could trigger their collapse and devastate the economy, potentially pushing the country to leave the 17-country euro currency union.

“We are trying very hard,” Averof Neophytou, deputy leader of the ruling Democratic Rally party, told reporters on the progress of talks. “We may have a result this day.”

Speaking at a meeting of the EU’s 27 foreign ministers in Dublin today, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore called on Europe to show solidarity to Cyprus.

“Irish people have sympathy for the situation in Cyprus and certainly we identify,” he said.

Bank takeover

Greece's Piraeus Bank was chosen earlier today to take over the Greek branches of Cypriot lenders, in a deal that helps shield Greek banks from the island's crisis and allows Cyprus to shrink its bloated banking sector.

The deal, announced by Greece's bank bailout fund, is subject to approval by European competition authorities.

The fund did not provide further details but officials said Piraeus, Greece's No.3 bank, beat out Alpha Bank in the race for the Greek units of the two biggest Cypriot lenders - Bank of Cyprus and Cyprus Popular Bank.

The two countries earlier announced the units would be sold to a Greek lender as cash-strapped Cyprus scrambles to strike a bailout deal to avert a collapse of its financial system.

Worried the crisis could trigger panic among Greek savers, Greek officials had been trying to agree a deal since early this week but were forced to put the plans on hold after Cyprus voted down an unpopular bank levy included in its bailout agreement.

"It'll be good because it will ring fence the Greek banking system," a senior Greek official said on the Greek-Cypriot deal, which fulfills one of the terms of a euro zone bailout deal voted down by the Cypriot parliament earlier this week because of an unpopular levy on banking deposits.

Cyprus said the deal included the "most favourable terms under the present circumstances" for the island nation.

Russia rebuffed Cypriot entreaties for aid today, leaving the island's increasingly isolated leaders scrambling to strike a bailout deal with the Eu ropean Union by next week or face the collapse of its financial system.

Russia’s prime minister Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow will help Cyprus out financially only if its new money-raising measures get the backing of the EU.

"The talks have ended as far as the Russian side is concerned," Russian finance minister Anton Siluanov told reporters after two days of crisis talks with his Cypriot counterpart, Michael Sarris.

Wealthy Russians have billions of euros at stake in Cyprus's outsized and now crippled banking sector. But Mr Siluanov said Russian investors were not interested in Cypriot gas and that the talks had ended without result.

Parliament vote

MPs will vote this evening on measures proposed by the government including a "solidarity fund" bundling state assets, including future gas revenues and nationalised pension funds, as the basis for an emergency bond issue and likened by JP Morgan to "a national fire sale".

They are also considering a bank restructuring bill that officials said would see the country's second largest lender, Cyprus Popular Bank, split into good and bad assets, and a government call for the power to impose capital controls to stem a flood of funds leaving the island when banks reopen on Tuesday after a week-long shutdown. There was no silver bullet, however, and Cyprus's partners in the 17-nation currency bloc were growing increasingly unimpressed.

"I still believe we will get a settlement, but Cyprus is playing with fire," Volker Kauder, a leading conservative ally of German chancellor Angela Merkel, told public television ARD.

Dr Merkel told German politicians that nationalisation of pension funds was unacceptable as a way to plug a hole in finances and clinch the bailout, parliamentary sources said. They quoted the chancellor as saying debt sustainability and bank restructuring would have to be the core of any deal, which she called a matter of "credibility".