Thursday, 5 February 2015

"We didn't even agree to disagree"

"We did not even agree to disagree," said Greek finance minister Yiannis Varoufakis after a two hour-long meeting with his German counterpart, Wolfgang Scheauble, on Thursday morning. "We did not discuss the Greek debt or haircut. We talked about how to end the European crisis."

The fruitless outcome of the ministers' first meeting was predictable given the lack of common ground between the two sides. Varoufakis' Syriza party was elected on January 25 to end austerity in Greece. Scheauble reiterated the German position: "It is important that agreements are adhered to. ... The German government has gone as far as it can [in negotiations]."

Germany called on Greece on Wednesday night to commit to the fiscal adjustment and reform programme signed by its predecessors. It also called on the government to retract positions expressed by its ministers when they were sworn in last Wednesday. Some of those statements promised to freeze privatisations, hire back those dismissed from the public sector and reverse austerity measures in the national health system.

Syriza is asking for a renegotiation of its entire programme. Capitulation to German demands would annul the election, it said in a statement. "It is obvious that these proposals will not be accepted by the new Greek government," it said. "They contradict the recent popular mandate and do not enhance Europe's prospects of growth."

"We are bound to the things for which the Greek people elected us," said premier Alexis Tsipras to his MPs later on Thursday. "It is important that the people are not deceived and that we keep our word."

"We have submitted our proposals to Europe. We are waiting for Germany's proposals. Unfortunately we haven't heard anything specific yet," Tsipras said, an apparent reference to Varoufakis' proposal for a swap of existing debt for bonds that would be linked to economic growth.

"They are calling on us to implement our commitments. We say... we will respect the rule for balanced budgets, but let's be clear, austerity is not a rule of the European community, it is not a founding principle of the European Union," said Tsipras.

"We call on our partners to respect democracy and rule by the people in Greece," he said to applause from Syriza's 149 parliamentary deputies. 

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