Sunday 4 December 2016

Emergency meeting as Greece teeters on the brink

Ministers still divided over second bailout

Sarah Collins, in Brussels

Published 15/06/2011 | 05:00

Protests in Athens yesterday
Protests in Athens yesterday

IN A sign of increasing desperation among Eurozone finance ministers at the need to forge a solution to the Greek debt crisis, another emergency meeting has been called for this Sunday in the hope of agreeing a second bailout package.

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Finance ministers were meant to convene just for Monday but have now called a two-day meeting in a concerted attempt to settle the crisis.

The announcement came after last night's emergency session as the latest Greek crisis threatens to spiral out of control.

While the ministers agreed on the need for extra cash to help prop up the Greek government, they are still divided over how to sell the idea to taxpayers.

Belgian Finance Minister Didier Reynders has estimated the potential cost of a second bailout at more than €80bn.

The ministers managed to "narrow down the options", according to one diplomat, before they reunite next week and in time for Greece to meet a mid-July debt repayment.

At stake is how to involve investors without triggering a default, which the European Central Bank (ECB) says would be incredibly costly.

Germany insists it will only stump up more money if investors agree to a bond swap, exchanging their current holdings for seven-year debt.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble outlined the plan in a letter to finance ministers last week, and stuck to the script at yesterday's meeting, saying private sector involvement was an "element" of a second bailout.

He was backed up by his Austrian counterpart Maria Fekter, who said "the private sector should take part in the debt-reduction process".

The ECB has warned that twisting investors arms will result in rating agencies declaring a "credit event" -- a de-facto default -- which the bank's president-in-waiting Mario Draghi says would spark a "chain of contagion".

"The cost of default would likely exceed its benefits," Mr Draghi said in the European Parliament.

"There would still be a primary deficit that needs to be financed ... [and bank] capital would be wiped out, so more money ought to be used to recapitalise the domestic banks.

"So people who are arguing for a default should stand ready to put more money in after a default is achieved."

'Dangerous'

.Mr Reynders has also warned that forcing bondholder involvement would prove "dangerous" for Ireland and Portugal, who are both under EU-IMF bailout programmes.

Brian Hayes, Minister of State at the Department of Finance, who attended the Brussels meeting, said a resolution to the Greek crisis was "important" for Ireland and the eurozone.

"The markets aren't distinguishing between the peripheral countries at the moment," he said. "The real task for Ireland is to get back to the markets at the soonest opportunity."

Mr Hayes was attending the meeting instead of Finance Minister Michael Noonan who was in Washington meeting with IMF acting chief John Lipsky and US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

The European Commission is working out how to implement a voluntary rollover modelled on a 2009 plan for eastern Europe, which would involve bondholders buying up new debt once their current holdings mature.

If no deal is agreed, Greece could simply default by missing a payment. That would be a disorderly process and experts believe it would spark a reaction similar to the impact of the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

Irish Independent

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