Business Irish

Sunday 17 December 2017

Greece crisis: Noonan forced to defend 'pro-German' stance at EU debt talks

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras leaves after an EU summit in Brussels. Photo: AP
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras leaves after an EU summit in Brussels. Photo: AP
German chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande after EU crisis talks

John Downing and Colm Kelpie

Finance Minister Michael Noonan has rejected claims he was trying to ensure Greece did not get a better EU debt deal than Ireland at crunch talks on Monday.

In the Dail yesterday Anti Austerity Alliance (AAA) TD, Ruth Coppinger, said she believed the Finance Minister lined up with Germany at the crucial European ministers' meeting in Brussels to ensure Greece did not secure a deal on debt which Ireland had already failed to get.

"How dare you lecture the Greek government," Ms Coppinger said referring to media reports from the crunch meetings in Brussels on the future of Greece as a member of the 19-state Eurozone.

But Mr Noonan strongly rejected these assertions and said he hoped an EU deal with Greece can be done by tomorrow.

"The Deputy is ascribing views to me which I don't hold and never have held," the Finance Minister replied.

His aim was to defend the single currency, the financial health of Eurozone, and Greece's continued membership of it, he said.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny later rejected claims by Socialist TD Paul Murphy that Mr Noonan "stabbed the Greek people in the chest and the Irish people in the back", in his comments about the Greek debt crisis.

Eurozone finance ministers will again gather in Brussels tonight, for the second time this week, in an attempt to hammer out a Greek deal.

The Greek government, meanwhile faces a backlash at home.

While European leaders have welcomed the latest proposals from Athens a number of Greek politicians reacted angrily yesterday to the concessions put on the table by their government which include raising the retirement age and increasing certain taxes.

Greek sources told the Irish Independent that Mr Tsipras will face a difficult job in selling the package at home and putting it through the Greek parliament.

"It is going to be difficult to pass this," one source said, although adding that it would likely get through.

The Greek parliament's deputy speaker, however, went so far as to warn that the proposals might be rejected. "I believe that this programme as we see it... is difficult to pass by us," deputy parliament speaker and Syriza politician Alexis Mitropoulos told a Greek television station.

"The prime minister first has to inform our people on why we failed in the negotiation and ended up with this result," he said. "I believe (the measures) are not in line with the principles of the left. This social carnage... they cannot accept it."

If parliament fails to back a deal, Mr Tsipras might be forced to call a snap election or a referendum that would prolong the uncertainty.

But other Greek politicians believed a possible deal would pass in Athens.

"I believe the deal will pass parliament and will reconfirm the government's majority," Dimitris Papadimoulis, a Syriza MEP, told financial newswire Reuters.

"I do not believe that top Syriza lawmakers will want to be responsible for bringing down a five-month-old government and a prime minister who enjoys popular support of about 70pc."

Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Taoiseach Enda Kenny are expected to return to Brussels today and tomorrow respectively and join other Eurozone ministers and leaders to hammer out what is hoped could be a political deal that would unlock bailout cash and avoid Greece defaulting on an IMF payment next week.

Officials of the three institutions representing Athens' creditors - the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF - were analysing the Greek proposals intensively in Brussels to see whether the numbers add up to make Greek public finances sustainable.

Jitters over the risk of a default leading to capital controls have prompted savers to pull billions of euro out of Greek banks, forcing the European Central Bank to increase emergency lending to keep them afloat.

Mr Noonan reportedly joined his German counterpart Wolfgang Schauble at the meeting on Monday to call for capital controls to be put in place.

Although the mood after Monday's summit was broadly positive, there have been several false dawns in the talks.

Mr Tsipras appeared to have reached an understanding with the creditors at the start of June, only to blast their demands as "absurd" in parliament after running into a backlash at home.

Irish Independent

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