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More aid for Athens

May 17, 2011

Greece could be in line for easier terms to its bailout package, as European finance ministers once again seek to avoid the country defaulting on its debts. However, any changes would come at a price to Athens.

An EU flag above the acropolis
Greece is being asked to embark on major changesImage: picture alliance / dpa

The chairman of the eurozone, Jean-Claude Juncker, indicated on Tuesday that the terms of Greece's bailout package may have to be eased as part of a "soft restructuring."

In return, the country would be asked to adopt new austerity measures "within a few days," including a radical program of privatization.

In order to qualify for changes to its borrowing terms, Juncker said that Greece would first have to raise some 50 billion euros ($71 billion) from privatization.

The European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have demanded Athens sell state-owned ports and other assets to help to meet its debt problem.

A riot policeman runs from angry protesters in the northern Greek port city of Thessaloniki
Austerity measures have led to repeated clashes in GreeceImage: AP

It is believed that a soft restructuring would entail a renegotiation of interest rates and length of time for repayment, as opposed to a "hard restructuring," which would see creditors lose some of the money they have invested in the country's bonds.

"If Greece makes all these efforts, then we must see if it is possible to make a soft restructuring of Greek debt," Juncker told the conference.

"I am strictly opposed to a major restructuring of Greek debt," he added.

Despite receiving a 110-billion euro bailout from the EU and IMF last year, Greece is again on the brink of defaulting on its debt.

EU finance ministers appeared ready earlier on Tuesday to provide additional aid to Greece to avoid a default following the approval of a fresh bailout for Portugal.

Spanish Finance Minister Elena Salgado confirmed that an extension of loan repayments for Greece was "on the cards."

'More reforms, more cuts'

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said earlier this week that Greece could be granted an extension to its repayment schedule for its massive debt, but only if private creditors were also involved.

Portugal's Finance Minister Fernando Teixeira dos Santos, left, talking to EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn at the Brussels meeting
The Portuguese finance minister (l.) got the support he needed from RehnImage: AP

European Economic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn told the German daily Die Welt that Greece "must accelerate its economic reforms and set up a complete privatization program," adding that a default would be a disaster for Greece and the entire eurozone.

Giving Athens more funds - Greek government officials have floated the figure of an extra 60 billion euros - is likely to prove a hard sell for EU governments facing voters increasingly hostile to bailouts at the taxpayer's expense.

On Monday, EU finance ministers waved through an emergency loan package for Portugal totaling some 78 billion euros over three years.

The decision is the third bailout granted to a eurozone country in the past year, following Greece and Ireland. On Monday, finance ministers endorsed Italian central bank chief Mario Draghi as the next president of the European Central Bank (ECB).

Authors: Gregg Benzow, Richard Connor (dpa, AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Nancy Isenson