(EurActiv) — EU heads of state made a pitch in Brussels yesterday (23 May) for Greek voters to support centrist pro-EU/IMF bailout parties in the country’s election next month, as talk of a Greek exit from the euro zone continued to gather pace.
Greece has been a major issue at the dinner summit, although the official agenda was focused on growth, sources told EurActiv.
Panagiotis Pikrammenos, the caretaker Greek Prime Minister, told EU leaders that the results of last May’s elections, in which anti-bailout parties made great strides, “reflect the agony and uncertainty of the Greek society”.
Pikrammmenos, a judge who was chosen to lead the country until the June 17 election, stressed that Greek GDP had contracted by more than 15%, and 20% of the general population was now unemployed; 50% of the youth.
“The cost of adjustment has tested the limits of the Greek people and that is why we need urgent measures to restore confidence and growth,” Pikrammenos said.
He supported a proposal to boost funding for the European Investment Bank (EIB), adding that the Union’s lending institution could play an important role in supporting small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in both Greece and the wider euro zone.
But to allow Athens to continue paying its bills, Pikrammenos called for the urgent release of €6.5 billion, which the EU had already committed to Greece.
A short statement by the European Council, ‘Euro area press lines on Greece’, reaffirmed the EU leaders’ wish to maintain Greece in the euro area, but only if it respects its commitment to implement the EU/IMF austerity programme.
EU leaders also called on the next Greek government to “make the choice” to continue implementing agreed reforms that will “bring Greece on a path toward growth and job creation”.
“The euro zone has shown considerable solidarity having already disbursed, together with the IMF (International Monetary Fund) nearly €150 billion in support of Greece since 2010,” the statement read.
Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker denied reports that euro zone finance minsters had been asked to prepare national contingency plans for a possible chaotic departure of Greece from the euro zone.
But his words indicated that all options remained open. “The working assumption” is that Greece would remain part of the euro, he told the press after the summit meeting.
French President François Hollande also denied the report, saying he was “not aware of any simulation of a Greek exit from the euro” and that his country was “not working under that hypothesis.”
“What would happen if a new government formed after the Greek election refuses the memorandum and does not respect the goals? I think the euro zone’s attitude would be to ask it to strictly respect its commitments,” Hollande said.
But Belgian Foreign Minister Steven Vanackere appeared to de-dramatise the fact that countries were considering contingency plans.
“We must insist on efforts to avoid an exit scenario but that doesn’t mean we are not preparing for eventualities. I believe many countries have their contingency plans for the things they want to avoid at all cost, like terrorist attacks, and to say that we don’t have a contingency plan would be irresponsible,” Vanackere said.
Meanwhile, the euro remained stuck at a near 22-month low against the dollar, and vulnerable to further declines as the prospect of a Greek exit from the euro zone kept investors on tenterhooks.