Greek PM embarks on European charm offensive

After clashing with creditors, Alexis Tsipras now says he will not act unilaterally on country’s $270bn bailout.

Opposition leader and head of radical leftist Syriza party Tsipras arrives for a meeting with journalists in Athens
PM Alexis Tsipras has indicated a willingness to reach a deal with EU and IMF [Reuters]

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has struck a conciliatory note hours before Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis was due to seek support for a renegotiation of the country’s $270bn bailout in Paris.

Varoufakis said on Friday that Greece will not negotiate the terms of the country’s debt with the “troika” team from the European Union and International Monetary Fund (IMF) overseeing it – instead preferring to deal directly with eurozone leaders.

On Saturday, however, Tsipras said he believed a deal could be reached with the EU and IMF.

“No side is seeking conflict and it has never been our intention to act unilaterally on Greek debt,” Tsipras said in a statement issued to Bloomberg News.

The new government in Athens has made it clear that it would not back down on its election pledges to abandon the austerity policies imposed under the bailout agreement sealed by the last government.

In its first meeting with creditors since it took office a week ago, the Greek government clashed with the head of the eurozone finance ministers on Friday over its plans to rethink its rescue package and to halve the country’s debt.

But facing growing disquiet from partners led by Germany, Tsipras rang European Central Bank President Mario Draghi on Friday night to assure him that Athens was seeking an accord, a government official said.

“The discussion was conducted in a good spirit and it was confirmed that there’s a willingness to find a mutually beneficial solution for Greece and for Europe,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Tsipras, who will visit Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and French President Francois Hollande next week, said his plans to balance the budget did not mean Greece would renege on its commitments to the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

Paris negotiations

Varoufakis has talks scheduled with French Finance Minister Michel Sapin and Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron on Sunday, before heading to London and Rome.

Sapin has already said the EU should be open to discussions with the new Greek government on restructuring its debt or extending the bailout terms.

However, neither Tsipras nor Varoufakis are intending to visit Germany, which has shouldered the bulk of Greece’s loans and which strongly objects to Athens’ stated plans.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday ruled out fresh debt relief, telling the Hamburger Abendblatt daily: “There has already been voluntary debt forgiveness by private creditors, banks have already slashed billions from Greece’s debt.”

Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho and Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb also oppose any debt relief.

Despite a restructuring in 2012, Greece is still lumbered with a debt pile of more than $355bn, upwards of 175 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) – an EU record.

Athens faces about $11bn in repayments mid-year and is shut out of international bond markets while it waits for a final bailout tranche from international lenders of $8.1bn.

Source: AFP, Reuters