EU denies it has plans for €25bn in aid to Greece
The European Union yesterday denied reports it was readying a financial aid package to Greece worth up to €25bn as its officials were due in Athens to begin a rigorous inspection of Greek public finances.
European Commission spokesman Amadeu Altafaj denied the reports in Germany's 'Der Spiegel' and various Greek newspapers.
"There has been no such request for any financial aid by the Greek authorities, so this is a speculative scenario at this point in time," Mr Altafaj said in Brussels.
He added: "It is clear that if needed, the European Union will take determined action."
The EU has given Athens a March 16 deadline to show improvements in its budget, under the threat of tougher spending cuts.
Inspectors from the EU and the International Monetary Fund were due in Athens later yesterday to assess the Greek spending cuts.
The socialist government has promised to take tougher measures if needed to meet its target for reducing the budget deficit from a projected 12.7pc last year to 8.7pc in 2010, with an austerity programme that has so far been received broad public tolerance.
A poll published on Sunday by the daily 'Ethnos' newspaper showed an estimated 57.6pc of Greeks believe austerity measures taken so far are "in the right direction", while 75.8pc think unions should show restraint until the end of the crisis. No margin of error was given.
Labour unions, however, are stepping up their opposition with plans for a general strike tomorrow.
Union protests have already caused fuel shortages. Supply problems eased after customs officials called off a strike late on Sunday in the wake of a court decision declaring their protest illegal.
The EU's Mr Altafaj said Greek authorities cited a recent strike by finance ministry officials for a delay in providing a full explanation on complex debt deals with US investment bank Goldman Sachs that may have affected deficit figures.
Also yesterday, Greece's deputy prime minister said a lack of leadership within the EU had worsened the financial crisis by failing to calm market fears that the country might default on its massive debt load.
"I'm of the opinion that today's Europe has no political leadership," Theodoros Pangalos told Greece's private Skai Television.
"I believe if Delors was in change in Europe, Mitterrand in France and Kohl in Germany . . . things would not be the same," he said, referring to former EU Commission President Jacques Delors, late President Francois Mitterrand, and former Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
Asked about the current financial crisis, he added: "The people who are managing the fortunes of Europe were not up to the task."