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The ball is in the Greek authorities' court, Brussels saysImage: dapd

Pressure on Athens

February 7, 2012

The EU Commission is pushing Greece to finally implement reforms, warning that otherwise Athens might not receive any more bailout cash from Europe.


The representatives of the European Commission have shown the patience of a saint when it comes to matters concerning Greece. And they have often been very restrained when speaking in public. But it seems this is now coming to an end.

For months, the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, known together as the troika, have been negotiating with the Greek government concerning a second bailout. This despite the fact that Greece has yet to fully implement the conditions attached to the first bailout. In addition, there have been doubts whether all of Greece's parties even feel bound by the commitments.

Antonis Samaras, the head of the conservative New Democracy party, has been openly disputing the latest austerity measures called for by Greece's international creditors. Weekend negotiations with the party leaders in the transitional government of Prime Minister Lucas Papademos also failed to come to any agreement.

Solidarity or state bankruptcy

"The truth is that we are already past the deadline," European Commission spokesman Amadeu Altafaj said in Brussels on Monday. "The ball is in the court of the Greek authorities." Speaking in Brussels, Altafaj said Greece had to bring something to the table in order to receive help from the eurozone, adding that Greece had "lived beyond its means for a very long time."

"The normal consequence in such a situation would actually be state bankruptcy," said Altafaj. But he said Greece was profiting from the "unprecedented solidarity of its partners."

Protesters take part in a rally organized by the PAME Communist-affiliated union as they hold banners with anti-austerity slogans in Athens, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012. Strikes and demonstrations over austerity measures hit the Greek capital of Athens on Tuesday, as international debt inspectors returned to resume their scrutiny of the country's reforms. Banner at front reads:
Greeks are increasingly unhappy with the austerity measuresImage: dapd

"I therefore reject any account that has created the impression that Greece has been forced into something," he added.

That last sentence in particular should also please German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In recent months, she has seen herself increasingly confronted by the accusation that she has been ruthlessly acting against Greece's best interests.

Minimum wage much higher than in Portugal

Altafaj named many different areas in which Greece will have to catch up to its eurozone neighbors. Some of Greece's industries still remain largely isolated, cut off from healthy competition. And the country's monthly minimum wage of 870 euros ($1,142) is far beyond what it can afford. By contrast, Portugal - also the recipient of a bailout - has a monthly minimum wage of 566 euros, and in Spain, it's 748 euros.

Altafaj said the Commission is not planning to synchronize the minimum wage across the continent, but Greece's very weak competiveness simply does not fit with this minimum wage. Usually, representatives of the Commission refrain from commenting on topics not under their jurisdiction. But these comments concerning Greece's minimum wage have shown how much the patience of the Commission has been tested.

Commission not working on a euro exit

Altafaj said Greece's troubles "were not caused by the troika," implying that the Greeks had no one to blame but themselves. The crisis only "worsened chronic problems that had existed in the Greek economy for many years."

Greece's party leaders are likely to meet on Tuesday to discuss the austerity measures, amid calls from the country's unions for another general strike. Altafaj stressed that the Commission was not working on a Greek exit scenario from the monetary union. But it's not secret that some have been considering such a move.

The Commission is doing everything "to achieve a different result," said Altafaj. But, it was implied, if Greece doesn't play along, there may not be any other choice. But a Commission spokesperson would never actually say such a thing out loud.

Author: Christoph Hasselbach / cmk
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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