Exit from euro would be 'terror scenario'

Thu, Feb 16, 2012, 00:00

GREECE is facing a battle to expel it from the euro zone and must do everything possible to ensure this “terror scenario” must not come about, its finance minister said yesterday.

Evangelos Venizelos delivered the dramatic message before a midday meeting with the country’s president, Karolos Papoulias.

“There are now clearly powers inside Europe who are playing with fire . . . and who would like to see Greece outside the euro zone,” Mr Venizelos said.

“We must give no one the excuse that would lead to the implementation of a scenario – a terror scenario for Greece and the world economy,” he continued, urging the country’s political parties to avoid any further delays.

His comments came after Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, expressed concern at how lenders could ensure Athens would stick to the austerity programme after likely elections in April.

The comments, seen as yet more German interference in internal political matters, caused a storm in Greece, even leading to an outspoken intervention from the president Karolos Papoulias.

“I don’t accept my country being ridiculed by Mr Schäuble. Who does Mr Schäuble think he is? And the Dutch [and] Finns?” said the president, who earlier in the day announced he was giving up his salary because of the debt crisis. The 82-year-old, who has a German wife, earns €283,694 a year in the largely ceremonial post. His term expires in three years.

Mr Schäuble could take some satisfaction in the fact that Antonis Samaras, the leader of the second party in the country’s coalition government, yesterday produced a letter committing himself to implementing a new austerity and reform package.

In the document, Mr Samaras said he committed his party “to the stabilisation programme’s objectives and key policies and to their successful implementation”.

Mr Samaras also said his commitment extended to beyond a general election, expected to take place in April. However, he repeated a message conveyed in a previous letter sent to the same parties in November, that “policy modifications might be required to guarantee the full programme’s implementation”.

The written pledges to implement the austerity package of pay, pension and job cuts had been demanded by Euro Group chairman, Jean-Claude Juncker.

Just how difficult implementing these measures will be – and the opposition they will encounter – was demonstrated publicly in central Athens by a five-hour drama in which a couple employed at the Workers Housing Agency, which is slated for closure under the troika agreement, threatened to jump from the building.

Facing the immediate loss of their jobs and income, the couple, who have a child with disability, said they wouldn’t be able to cope.

Professional negotiators eventually succeeded in getting the man and, some hours later, his wife to end their protest.

“This is another example of how this crisis is destroying peoples’ lives, which is something that our government and troika don’t get,” said a popular anti-memorandum Independent MP, Panayiotis Kouroublis, who was at the scene.

“Everything is done on the hoof,” he complained, pointing out that the state had never carried out a proper audit to establish the real needs of the country’s public sector. The effects of austerity had resulted in the Greek suicide rate doubling since the crisis began, he said.