Tuesday 20 March 2018

Finance Minister Michael Noonan 'pessimistic' a solution can be found for Greece

Michael Noonan
Michael Noonan
Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

FINANCE Minister Michael Noonan has said he is pessimistic at this stage that a solution can be found for Greece.

The minister, who is in Brussels today for an emergency meeting of Eurozone finance ministers, told TDs that he did not favour a debt write-down for the country.

Asked if he was optimistic about a solution being found, he replied: “Today I’m pessimistic.

“Because with the various reports I’m reading in the media and the various briefing notes that I get, I don’t see the basis for a solution emerging yet. Many of the proposals that are emanating are, on the face of it, technically impossible.”

And he said he couldn’t predict what would happen over the coming days, but he said the Greek government had to set out what it wanted, and then the focus would shift to the ECB and European Commission to respond, followed by European governments.

Mr Noonan told the Oireachtas Finance Committee that there was a major humanitarian issue in Greece, and that he had sympathy with the Greek people, but he said he wasn’t in favour of a debt write-off. Instead, he suggested he was in favour of suspending the repayment of debt.

“We won’t favour any write-offs of debt, because if you write off debt, it makes a hole in everyone’s balance sheet,” he said.

“But if you park debt, and even if there’s no interest being paid on it, the debt owed to you is still there as an asset on the  balance sheet even if it’s costing the recipient nothing to receive it. So I think there’s space there.

“I want Greece to stay in the Eurozone, so I wouldn’t favour any strategy that would encourage, induce or drive Greece out of the Eurozone.”

Mr Noonan said Ireland had no contact from the Greek authorities either at ministerial or ambassadorial level.

Mr Noonan said there was a problem with the way the bailout programme was implemented in Greece because structural reforms were not made.

“Sovereign countries have responsibilities for running their country, and they have responsibilities for the welfare of their people. The Greek authorities over a number of years did not take the same action as the Irish authorities, the Portuguese authorities or the Spanish authorities.”

Meanwhile, G20 finance ministers tonight urged Greece and its creditors to resolve their difference. US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew cautioned against “casual talk” that Greece could leave the Euro and recommended a “pragmatic approach” in which the parties can agree on terms that are mutually agreeable.

Earlier, UK Chancellor George Osborne said a Greek exit from the Euro would be very difficult for the world economy.

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