EU Commission chief acts to ease Greece war of words | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 16.02.2012
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EU Commission chief acts to ease Greece war of words

The head of the EU Commission has tried to calm nerves after a vitriolic exchange between Greece and Germany over Athens' debt woes this week. Comments by Germany's finance minister have come under heavy fire in Greece.

Jose Manuel Barroso struck a rather conciliatory tone at an EU meeting in Brussels on Thursday, saying he hoped "that the members of the European Union will accept the commitments given by Greece."

He also praised "the courage of the Greek government and the Greek people in these very challenging times."

But Barroso also stressed that "there can be no collective solidarity without national responsibility."

That was a day after German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble told German public radio that efforts to help Greece had their limits. Schäuble and Germany have emerged as central figures of scorn amongst anti-austerity groups in Greece who feel Berlin is playing too strong a hand in their country's financial matters.

"We want to do everything we can to help Greece," Schäuble had said. "We can help but we are not going to pour money into a bottomless pit."

Those comments earned an angry response from Greek President Carolos Papoulias, who said he did not "accept having my country taunted by Mr Schäuble, as a Greek I do not accept it."

Papoulias also blasted the Netherlands and Finland for their tough stance: "Who is Mr Schäuble to taunt Greece? Who are the Dutch? Who are the Finns?" asked Papoulias.

Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager, meanwhile, warned that Greece's European partners may opt to delay payment of the funds until after Greek parliamentary elections in April.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble

Schäuble has become the object of scorn amongst some Greeks

"Ideally, after the elections, you want to deal with rulers that you know will give their support to the package," De Jager said in an interview with the Dutch business daily Het Financieele Dagblad.

He also said that "several EU countries, among them the Netherlands … are not at all satisfied with the promises Athens made last week."

Juncker's optimism

De Jager's comments were in sharp contrast to sentiments expressed by the head of the Eurogroup, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, late on Wednesday. Juncker said Athens had provided the eurozone ministers with an explanation of how it intended to close a 325-million-euro ($425.5 million) budgetary gap and "strong assurances" that it or any future government would implement the demanded austerity measures.

He also said that eurozone finance ministers would likely be in a position to approve the second bailout package early next week.

De Jager's comments on Thursday, seemed to contradict this idea.

"We want to seek more guarantees in place by implementing in law some of the measures that are absolutely needed in the next two weeks before with can give the final okay to the package," he said. De Jager described confidence in Greece as being at "an all-time low."

Greece could become insolvent as soon as March 20, when a 14.5-billion-euro bond repayment is set to come due.

dfm/pfd/sjt (dpa, AFP)