Greece Finance Minister Varoufakis: ‘Europe comes first’

BBC
_80710563_025693676-1Yanis Varoufakis with French Finance Minister Michel Sapin – 1 February

The economist-turned-finance minister seeking to renegotiate Greece’s huge debt obligations says his priority is the well-being of all Europeans and has ruled out accepting more bailout cash.

After talks with his French counterpart, Yanis Varoufakis said a new debt deal was needed within months.

Michel Sapin said France was ready to help Greece settle with its creditors.

Mr Varoufakis is in London on Monday for similar talks with the UK Chancellor George Osborne.

Ahead of the meeting, Mr Osborne said that he welcomed the opportunity to “discuss face to face with Yanis Varoufakis the stability of the European economy and how to boost its growth”.

Mr Varoufakis is to travel to Rome next on his trip around Europe’s capitals and financial hubs.

His comments follow remarks on Saturday by new Greek PM Alexis Tsipras, who said he was confident Greece could reach a deal with creditors.

‘Ending the addiction’
Greece’s leftist anti-austerity Syriza party won last Sunday’s election with a pledge to write off half the country’s debt.

Greeece still has a debt of €315bn – about 175% of gross domestic product – despite some creditors writing down debts in a renegotiation in 2012.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has ruled out debt cancellation, saying creditors had already made concessions.

At a news conference in which Mr Sapin reiterated that “there is no question of cancelling the Greek debt”, Mr Varoufakis said Greece and its partners had to proceed “with one objective in mind – the prosperity of the average European citizen”.

He added that he wanted a new plan for fiscal stimulus in place by the end of May, with repayment of existing debt tied to Greece’s ability to restore growth.

He ruled out Greece receiving a new tranche of the bailout package.

“It’s not that we don’t need the money, we’re desperate because of certain commitments and liabilities that we have,” he said.

“We have resembled drug addicts craving the next dose. What this government is all about is ending the addiction.”

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Greek couple look at adverts for rental properties
Greek economy in numbers
Average wage is €600 (£450: $690) a month
Unemployment is at 25%, with youth unemployment almost 50%
Economy has shrunk by 25% since the start of the eurozone crisis
Country’s debt is 175% of GDP
Borrowed €240bn (£188bn) from the EU, the ECB and the IMF
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Mr Varoufakis said he would visit several European capitals, including Berlin, as he sought agreement on Greece’s debts.

He added he would negotiate separately with the European Commission, the IMF and the European Central Bank but not with officials representing all three – the so-called “troika”, which he described as a “committee of technocrats”.

The troika agreed a €240bn (£179bn; $270bn) bailout with the previous Greek government.

Austerity measures imposed in an effort to manage the debt have prompted outrage in Greece and led voters to reject the previous government.

Instead Greeks convincingly voted Syriza into power after an election campaign dominated by the party’s message of change.

In interviews in the German media published on Saturday, Mrs Merkel said she still wanted Greece to stay in the eurozone but did not “envisage fresh debt cancellation”.

Greece’s current programme of loans ends on 28 February. A final bailout tranche of €7.2bn was still to be negotiated but the new government has already begun to roll back austerity measures.

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