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Friday 9 December 2016

Greece crisis: Greece faces last chance to stay in eurozone as Finance Ministers meet

People queue at an ATM to withdraw cash in Athens on July 7, 2015. European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker said that he was against an exit by Greece from the euro, even though Greeks massively rejected bailout terms in a referendum this weekend
People queue at an ATM to withdraw cash in Athens on July 7, 2015. European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker said that he was against an exit by Greece from the euro, even though Greeks massively rejected bailout terms in a referendum this weekend

Greece faces a last chance to stay in the euro zone on Tuesday when Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras puts proposals to an emergency euro zone summit after Greek voters resoundingly rejected the austerity terms of a defunct bailout.

With Greek banks rapidly running out of cash and the European Central Bank slowly tightening the noose on their funding, Tsipras must persuade the bloc's other 18 leaders, many of whom are exasperated after five years of Greek crisis, to open rapid negotiations for a major new loan to rescue his country.

As part of the bailout, it is understood he will look for a 30pc write-down on Greece's debt pile, although whether this is a long-term plan is not yet known while the country is also expected to seek a restructuring of its debt profile.

Greece may agree to new European proposals on pensions and tax in return for a new bailout.

The European Commission boss was keen to send out the signal that the summit is there to restart negotiations.

He said it was a chance for the Greek government to "explain how it sees us extricating ourselves from this programme" although he conceded that solution would not be found "overnight."

"My aim is to prevent Grexit. I am against Grexit."

The leaders of Germany and France, the currency area's two main powers, said after conferring on Monday that the door was still open to a deal to save Greece from plunging into economic turmoil and ditching the euro.

But Chancellor Angela Merkel, facing rising pressure in Germany to cut Greece loose, made clear it was up to Tsipras to come up with convincing proposals after Athens spurned the tax rises, spending cuts and pension and labour reforms that were on the table before its bailout expired last week.

From the Greek side, the key to making any deal politically acceptable will be to win a stronger commitment from Merkel and other lenders to reschedule Greece's giant debt burden, which the International Monetary Fund says is unsustainable.

Without some firmer pledge of debt relief, neither Greece nor the IMF are likely to accept a deal. But that may be more than Germany and its northern allies can swallow.

"The door is open to negotiations, but there isn't much time left and the situation is urgent both for Greece and for Europe," French President Francois Hollande said in a joint media appearance with Merkel in Paris.

At stake at the emergency summit beginning at 6 p.m. (1600 Irish time) in Brussels is more than just the future of Greece, a nation of 11 million that makes up just 2 percent of the euro zone's economic output and population.

If Greek banks run out of money and the country has to print its own currency, it could lead to a state leaving the euro for the first time since it was launched in 1999, creating a precedent and raising doubts about the long-term viability of an incomplete European monetary union.

"Even if it did not trigger a short-term domino effect, the integrity of the euro zone would come under fresh threat with each episode of political uncertainty within member countries," said Thibault Mercier, an analyst at BNP Paribas.

 

CONCESSIONS UNCLEAR

Strengthened by the overwhelming 61.3 percent 'No' vote in Sunday's referendum, the leftist Tsipras won the unprecedented support of all other Greek party leaders on Monday and replaced his abrasive Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis with the soft-spoken negotiator Euclid Tsakalotos.

In an intensive round of telephone diplomacy, he called the heads of the ECB, the IMF and the European Commission, as well as Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But he gave little public clue of what reform concessions he would make to try to convince deeply sceptical Europeans to lend Athens more money after five months of acrimonious and fruitless negotiations.

His proposals were not expected to go much beyond a letter he sent to euro zone partners last week, acccepting most of the terms of a creditors' offer that was no longer on the table, but still seeking some loopholes for social or coalition reasons.

Greek newspapers dramatised the make-or-break nature of the Brussels showdown.

Centrist daily Ethnos headlined: "Time has run out for a solution before catastrophe," while the centre-right Eleftheros Typos said: "Tsipras' games finish at today's council: Time of crisis: deal or Grexit."

Greek newspapers said the proposals would be based on ideas that Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker put forward at the end of June with a few tweaks and would not differ much from the last plans presented by Athens itself last week.

Euro zone national officials were irritated that Juncker had gone beyond the agreed negotiating mandate of the three creditor institutions in his last-ditch diplomacy, and it is not clear that they will be more receptive to his ideas now.

A clear majority of Greece's 18 partners favour a hard line at the summit, arguing that they too are democracies and that Greeks should not get easier money because they had rejected the austerity terms, casting further doubt on whether they would implement any reforms agreed now.

The ECB left unchanged its emergency liquidity lifeline for Greek banks but raised the discount it charges on collateral they have to present for funds - a measure banking sources said was largely symbolic since the total they could borrow was capped.

A bank closure in force since the talks collapsed was prolonged until Thursday at least, and cash withdrawals remain limited to 60 euros a day, with 20 euro notes running out.

Even with the country was on the brink of economic collapse, Greek newspapers reported the government was still seeking exceptions from its reform pledges for special interests.

Athens wants to keep a 30 percent discount on value added tax on Greek islands and protect defence spending from cuts, which rightist junior coalition partners the Independent Greeks have called "red lines".

Mr Gabriel said plans for humanitarian aid for Greece must now be drawn up amid fears the country could run out of fuel and food.

Mrs Merkel clashed yesterday with Francois Hollande, the French president, who wants Greece to be offered a generous deal.

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