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Europe

Specter of Greek exit from eurozone emerges in Brussels

With Greece struggling to form a government and the winner of recent elections calling for an end to austerity, officials in Brussels are starting to discuss what they long feared: a Greek exit from the eurozone.

Greece has yet to form a coalition since Sunday elections and some observers doubt a coalition will ever come, predicting instead another round at the ballot box  in June.

Even though the head of the radical left, Alexis Tsipras has declared Greece's previously promised savings measures "null and void," the country is on track to receive the next installment of its aid package Thursday, a hefty 5 billion euros (about $6.5 billion).

"The payment will be made, since it was already agreed on," EU Commission spokesperson Amadeu Altafaj said Wednesday.

The same agreement calls for an extra 30 million euros to go to Greece in August - but on condition that the Greek government sticks to further saving and reform agreements.

Greecewarned

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle

Westerwelle called on Greece to meet previous agreements

With no Greek government in sight, Brussels is getting increasingly nervous. EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso issued an unmistakable warning during the celebration of Europe Day Wednesday.

"Countries in the relief program have no other choice," he said, "except for uncontrolled state bankruptcy, and that's no alternative at all in my opinion."

Barroso called on countries to take "courageous consolidation measures, to improve their competitiveness through structural reforms, and to make selective investments."

For others, though, Greek withdrawal from Europe's monetary union is starting to look like a realistic possibility. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle broached the topic during a discussion forum organized by German broadcaster WDR in Brussels Wednesday.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Parliament President Martin Schulz

Barroso (left) is not pleased with current Greek rhetoric

"Greece's fate in the eurozone is now in Greece's hands," he said. "Greece itself must know what is at stake if signed agreements are unilaterally renounced or called into question."

Growing frustration

Top European officials are slowly losing patience with Greece, even while trying to show respect for the country's recent democratic elections.

At the WDR forum Wednesday, Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said it is not possible for Greece to keep the euro and reject savings measures at the same time.

"If 80 percent of Greeks want to keep the euro, they have to support parties that support" savings measures, he said. "Otherwise - I'm sorry for Greece and the Greek people - but there comes a point where Greece will have lost its last chance."

Meanwhile, Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn has rejected the notion that the EU shares blame for Greece's political turmoil, which has seen both the extreme left and right gain ground.

"Greece's economic problems have accumulated over a long time," he said, "and the deficits and debt began much earlier than the start of the EU-IMF help program - which the Greek government, with support of the Greek parliament, asked for."

High stakes

Graphic with Greek drachma and euro

Is it back to the drachma for Greece?

Many European politicians and functionaries see the EU at a crossroads. They seem to think the coming months will determine whether the integration of Europe continues or not.

At the WDR forum in Brussels, EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy called on strong countries such as Germany to maintain solidarity with weaker nations.

"Those who assert that their country can succeed on its own are not just perpetuating an illusion," he said, "they're lying! If we didn't have Europe, the costs would be incredibly high."

Van Rompuy called on politicians to explain to voters not just what the EU needs to persevere, but what is at stake right now.

Author: Christoph Hasselbach, Brussels / srs
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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