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Gabriel sees 'sense' in Greek referendum

June 27, 2015

Germany's vice chancellor Gabriel has said in a radio interview that he is open to a Greek referendum on its bailout deal. He acknowledged that austerity might have caused more harm than good in Greece.

Sigmar Gabriel
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Gambarini

In an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio on Saturday, German Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' call for a popular referendum on his country's bailout deal "could make sense," and cautioned fellow EU leaders not to instantly dismiss the idea.

"We'd be advised not to dismiss this suggestion from Mr. Tsipras out of hand and say 'that's just a trick.' But rather if the questions are clearly framed…then it could make sense," said Gabriel, whose Social Democrats (SPD) are fighting for popularity points with Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU).

Gabriel's comments came ahead of last-minute Eurogroup talks on Saturday aimed at resolving the five-month negotiations over Greece's debt before Athens must make a hefty repayment on its bailout funds on June 30 or risk bankruptcy.

Creditors impose 'unbearable burdens' says Tsipras

When announcing the proposed referendum late on Friday, Tsipras pointed out that the Greek people had suffered the most under the austerity measures imposed by creditors in exchange for the financial rescue packages accepted by earlier administrations, and therefore had the right to decide on the country's next move.

"The Greek government has been asked to accept a proposal that places new unbearable burdens on the Greek people," Tsipras said. "Right now, we bear an historic responsibility concerning ... the future of our country. And this responsibility obliges us to answer (the bailout creditors') ultimatum based on the sovereign will of the Greek people."

Gabriel acknowledges 'mistake'

Gabriel said he supported Tsipras' idea as long as it was clear what they were voting on, saying "it would only make sense if what Europe is offering is put up to a vote. And Europe is offering Greece a lot." He added that if a nation were to accept "a double-dight billion euro figure" in aid in exchange for certain reforms, in only made sense to make sure the people were willing to do it.

The vice chancellor conceded that the Greek government had a point about austerity possibly contracting their economy rather than letting it grow.

Gabriel acknowledged the "mistake of the old rescue programs," but insisted that what Europe is offering now is "real help for investment, for growth and to fight youth unemployment."

es/rc (AFP, Reuters)